Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl arrives in U.S; release controversy continues

In this image from video, people on Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl's plane are greeted on arrival at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio.
In this image from video, people on Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s plane are greeted on arrival at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio.
(John L. Mone / Associated Press)

Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl landed in San Antonio early Friday morning, ending another leg in a journey that began when U.S. officials negotiated his release from Islamic insurgents in Afghanistan last month in exchange for sending five Afghan detainees to Qatar.

Bergdahl, who had been held for nearly five years, arrived at Brooke Army Medical Center. Officials at U.S. Army South scheduled a news conference for 3 p.m. CDT “to discuss the final phase of reintegration.”

“Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was returned to the United States June 13. He arrived at the San Antonio Military Medical Facility on Fort Sam Houston early this morning. He is currently undergoing Phase III of reintegration. During reintegration, Sgt. Bergdahl will be equipped with the necessary tools to effectively resume normal life, with minimal physical and emotional complications,” the officials said in a statement.

Bergdahl had made the journey from Germany via military transport. After his release, the 28-year old Idaho native was sent to a U.S. military hospital there to undergo counseling and receive medical treatment. He also has been questioned about whether he deserted his unit before he was taken prisoner.

His family, from the small town of Hailey, Idaho, released a statement saying they are overjoyed with his return but will not discuss their travel plans.


“While the Bergdahls are overjoyed that their son has returned to the United States, Mr. and Mrs. Bergdahl don’t intend to make any travel plans public. They ask for continued privacy as they concentrate on their son’s reintegration,” according to the statement released through the Idaho National Guard.

Bergdahl’s departure for American soil was announced Thursday by a Pentagon spokesman, Rear Adm. John Kirby. “Our first priority is making sure that Sgt. Bergdahl continues to get the care and support he needs,” Kirby said, citing the sentiments of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.

Hagel defended the controversial Bergdahl swap this week, insisting that the exchange was the “last, best chance” to get him back and did not violate a longstanding U.S. policy against negotiating with terrorists. President Obama has said he had no regrets about the decision to bring Bergdahl home.

Critics, who include members of Congress, assert that the five former prisoners could return to terrorism and argue that the trade has endangered other soldiers by implying that the U.S. would make future deals. In addition, some soldiers who served with Bergdahl have accused him of deserting his post. Those former colleagues assert that he was captured only after he walked away, and that other Americans were killed or hurt as they searched for him.

Bergdahl’s hometown of Hailey already canceled plans to celebrate his release with a welcome-home party amid threats and security worries. But Thursday, one supporter said he’d had enough.

Blaine County Commissioner Larry Schoen called an impromptu news conference in Hailey to say his community supported Bergdahl as a U.S. soldier and native son. In a phone interview with The Times, Schoen said he was “speaking from the human side” and that he and others in Hailey were frustrated by threats made against Bergdahl’s family. “Everybody who puts on a uniform is a hero, as far as I’m concerned,” Schoen told The Times.

Times staff writer John Glionna contributed to this report.