Freed soldier faces long struggle back to normalcy

Mark LandlerThe New York Times

WASHINGTON -- For Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the journey home to Idaho began with a brief, dramatic helicopter ride from the rugged landscape of eastern Afghanistan to Bagram Air Base north of Kabul. His return to anything close to a normal life will take much longer, the sergeant's father said Sunday at an emotional news conference in Boise, the capital of the family's home state.

"Bowe's been gone so long that it's going to take him a long time to come back," Robert Bergdahl said, his voice breaking occasionally. He likened the process to a deep-sea diver's decompressing before rising to the surface. "If you come up too quickly," he added, "you die."

Experts on long-term captivity agreed, saying in interviews that after nearly five years in captivity, the sergeant, the lone U.S. prisoner of war in Afghanistan, who was held by Taliban fighters in utter isolation and unrelenting deprivation, was not only physically weakened, but also probably suffering deep psychological wounds from his ordeal.

His recovery, they said, will be a multi-step process, beginning with medical treatment and a psychological evaluation at a U.S. military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, and continuing at a military medical center in Texas before he finally goes home to Hailey, Idaho.

Even then, Bergdahl, 28, will most likely receive psychological counseling for months, if not years, to help him deal with the trauma of his years in captivity and the disorientation of sudden freedom. How fast or fully he recovers, experts said, is difficult to predict.

The Obama administration cited Bergdahl's deteriorating health as the reason it moved so quickly over the past several days to obtain his release, trading five battle-scarred Taliban fighters being held in the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the United States had intelligence indicating that Bergdahl's "safety and health were both in jeopardy and, in particular, his health was deteriorating." Speaking in Afghanistan, where he arrived hours after the soldier was flown to Germany, Hagel said the administration seized an opening to arrange the prisoner exchange "essentially to save his life."

The New York Times