Long road back for Idaho’s Bowe Bergdahl

Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl has completed the first phase of his reintroduction to American society — a return to U.S. control. He is now at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany undergoing the second phase, decompression and debriefing.

Decompression — normalizing emotional and behavioral response after hostile captivity, isolation and degradation — is a crucial step. Captives learn to survive an extremely traumatic ordeal; in doing so, they may engage in mental and physical coping strategies that they need to be eased back from and into their normal coping routines, according to information provided by U.S. Army South, which is overseeing Bergdahl’s reintegration.

“This is a slow and deliberate process to ensure that the individual isn’t overwhelmed by his reintegration back into society,” Col. Steve Warren, director of the Defense Press Office, said during a Monday press briefing in Washington, D.C. A copy of the transcript was provided to the Statesman.

Debriefing occurs in all three phases. “The initial debriefing during phase one is to establish his current condition, to determine if there’s any immediate and critical information that friendly forces can use for follow-on operations,” Warren said. “Of course, there’s an intelligence component to all of this. It would be naive to think there isn’t.”

As of Monday, Bergdahl had not yet spoken to his family. Warren said that would happen when Bergdahl and his psychologists “are certain that the time is right.”

Phase three, the final phase of reintegration, is slated to take place in San Antonio at Brooke Army Medical Center under U.S. Army South’s direction. Army South provides post-captivity reintegration for all service members worldwide. A Q&A document from the center cited other recent cases it has handled: treatment in 2007 of an Army contractor held hostage in Ethiopia for almost three months, in 2008 of three Department of Defense contractors held for more than 5 1/2 years in Colombia, in 2010 for an Army civilian who spent more than two months held in Iraq and in 2013 of a former U.S. service member held in Colombia for more than four months.

Phase three “begins with the homecoming,” Warren said. “It’s reuniting with family and society … and engaging with the media, giving him his opportunity to tell his story.”

There are no specifics on how long it will take Bergdahl to complete phases two and three. “It is all dependent on the individual returning,” Warren said. Warren would not release details of Bergdahl’s condition. He said Bergdahl is suffering from diet and nutrition issues, but he would not call it malnutrition.

“He hasn’t eaten well over the last five years. So we’re focusing on that. There are other matters, but for obvious reasons, I’m not going to get into the details,” said Warren.

No photos of Bergdahl are being released at this time.

While in captivity, Bergdahl continued to receive promotions. “It’s the department’s policy that when personnel are captured, they are promoted along a standard timeline,” Warren said.

Bergdahl was promoted twice while in captivity — first to specialist, then sergeant. He is scheduled for another promotion this month, but now that he’s no longer in captivity, Warren did not know if that promotion is still planned.