Army program aims to bring Bergdahl in for a ‘safe landing’

Posted at 4:23 PM, Jun 20, 2014
and last updated 2014-06-20 16:24:52-04

(CNN) – Like the six other former captives who have been through the Army’s reintegration program at Brooke Army Medical Center before him, daily life for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl is focused on routine.

He rises, eats and sleeps on a “normal schedule” and lives in a “typical” room at the huge hospital facility on a floor he shares with other patients.

What isn’t typical is the security presence outside his door. The reason, says Col. Hans Bush, command spokesman for U.S. Army South, is not to keep the returnee in, but “to make sure he doesn’t get overwhelmed in a social setting.” In other words, the goal is to prevent someone unwanted by either Bergdahl or his reintegration team from entering.

The medical center has a staff of hundreds, but America’s newest and perhaps most controversial returnee interacts daily with a very small, intimate circle numbering less than a dozen.

One of the most important parts of his routine is storytelling. The returnee personally recounts all that happened from the moment he left the security of his post in Afghanistan, though the five years he survived in captivity, right up until the day he was freed last month. And for the first time, the person telling that story is Bergdahl himself.

The listeners are a small group of professionals including a SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape) psychologist, members of his medical team and Army debriefers.

“The idea is to take the returnee from former captive all the way through a safe landing, where we have a soldier who can step forward as a soldier and do the next thing the Army calls on him to do,” Bush says.

Bergdahl may be the seventh former captive reintegrated since U.S. Army South was tasked to be the center for assisting them, but he is the first junior enlisted person to go through the program. Previous returnees were either Department of Defense employees or contractors. The program began at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas, in 2006.

“Daily life gradually expands to cover all things you and I take for granted”, Bush says, “personal encounters, personal hygiene, recreation/leisure and structure including direction, guidance and instruction (having a leader telling you when and where to do something). The goal is to provide the returnee the opportunity to make more and more decisions on his own and exercise more personal freedom.”

When I ask if Maj. Gen. Kenneth Dahl, the man leading the military’s investigation into how Bergdahl left his post in Afghanistan, had been in touch with the sergeant, I was referred to the Pentagon. Bush would say only that “investigation is not part of reintegration.”

“Does Sgt. Bergdahl have access to an attorney?” I ask.

“Legal counsel is available throughout the entire reintegration process,” is the reply.

Previous captives have completed their reintegration in a week to 10 days, but each case is as unique as the conditions of captivity, military experts say, and there have been early suggestions that Bergdahl’s stay may be much longer. Officially, the Army will say only that the length of treatment is “event-driven, not timeline-driven.”

And just where will Bergdahl go after he completes reintegration? Since he is still an active member of the Army, Bush said, “He will go where the Army will tell him to go.”

Past returnees have gone back to family and back to their places of employment, such as contractors. “Anyone in a military unit would return to their branch of service.” Bush says. “In this case, the Army.”

Once Bergdahl is cleared to leave San Antonio, the orders for his next destination are likely to come from Human Resources Command at Fort Knox, Kentucky. But Bush says he doesn’t know if any such decision has been made yet.

What is pretty much decided is that unlike his life now, life after reintegration for the 28-year-old probably will be anything but routine.