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Bergdahl to meet family in San Antonio

SAN ANTONIO — Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, released Saturday by the Taliban after being held captive nearly five years, will reunite with his family in San Antonio when he is flown here to be evaluated at the San Antonio Military Medical Center.

Bergdahl, 28, will begin a reintegration process at the sprawling medical center, which has treated thousands of troops injured in Iraq and Afghanistan and has experience with former POWs.

Six years ago, three Americans held prisoner for years by Colombian rebels were brought to SAMMC after they were freed in a rescue operation.

Bergdahl first will be given physicals at a U.S. military hospital in Germany. No date has been set for his transfer to San Antonio.

Bergdahl is the only American to go missing or be held as a POW in the long Afghanistan war. He was taken prisoner June 30, 2009, by the Taliban after walking off his base in eastern Afghanistan.

He was returned to U.S. custody in exchange for five Taliban detainees in a deal brokered by Qatar, the Pentagon said.

“A few hours ago, the family of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was informed by President (Barack) Obama that their long wait for his return will soon be over,” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said. “We will give him all the support he needs to help him recover from this ordeal, and we are grateful that he will soon be reunited with his family.”

A defense official Saturday wouldn't discuss the circumstances of his disappearance, but noted that Bergdahl, of Hailey, Idaho, had been promoted to sergeant while in captivity.

“He has suffered though a long and stressful ordeal. Our focus right now is on providing him the best possible care,” the defense official said, declining to be identified. “There will be a time later to look into the circumstances of his disappearance.”

Specialists began providing Bergdahl medical and psychological support immediately. He also underwent a tactical debriefing.

A defense official said he was at Bagram Airfield on Saturday. Bergdahl is expected to be flown to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, accompanied by at least one doctor and one psychologist trained in survival, escape, resistance and evasion.

He'll undergo more medical exams and structured debriefings at Landstuhl, and likely remain there three days before coming to San Antonio to be with family, receive additional care and face final debriefings.

“We are prepared to do reintegration, and that is our mission from the Army,” said Col. Hans Bush, chief spokesman for U.S. Army South in San Antonio.

SAMMC was in the spotlight six years ago when it treated Marc Gonsalves, Thomas Howes and Keith Stansell, who were freed after being held prisoner for more than five years by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.

The three men worked as government contractors for Northrop Grumman Corp. They were captured after their plane had engine trouble and went down in Colombia's southern jungle Feb. 13, 2003.

“This is a mission that is born out of our experiences as we led the mission to begin the reintegration of our men from Northrop Grumman who were held by the FARC,” Bush said. “And this headquarters being co-located with SAMMC makes it a natural fit.”

sigc@express-news.net
 

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