Former prisoner of war Bergdahl arrives back in U.S.
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 the Taliban 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. A Pentagon spokesman, Rear Adm. John Kirby, said Bergdahl will "continue the next phase of his reintegration process" at the Texas base.
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.
Bergdahl’s departure for American soil was announced Thursday by 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 Barack 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, Idaho, 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 Los Angeles 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.