Ex-captive Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl assigned to job on Texas Army post

Posted at 1:19 PM, Jul 14, 2014
and last updated 2014-07-14 13:19:30-04

(CNN) – Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl has finished undergoing medical care and counseling at an Army hospital in San Antonio and could return to an Army unit on a Texas post as early as Monday, a defense official tells CNN.

Bergdahl was held captive by militants for five years before he was released in May in exchange for five senior Taliban members held by the U.S. military. He has always maintained his active duty status. He cannot retire from the service or be discharged until the investigation concerning his disappearance and captivity in Afghanistan is complete.

For about three weeks, Bergdahl has been an outpatient at the San Antonio hospital, and military officials have interviewed him about his time in captivity.

Bergdahl is set to take a job at Fort Sam Houston, the Army post in San Antonio, according to an Army statement Monday. He will return to “regular duty within the command where he can contribute to the mission,” the statement said.

The New York Times reported Monday that two soldiers will help Bergdahl readjust to Army life.

No one besides Bergdahl will know exactly what that will feel like, but longtime war correspondent Mike Boettcher, who has worked in Afghanistan, said he believes it will be a difficult experience for the 28-year-old soldier.

Gunmen kidnapped Boettcher in El Salvador in 1985, and he struggled to regain his footing after being freed. As a reporter covering emotionally wrenching topics, he felt he had to work extra hard to prove he could handle it.

“What you’re worried about is how other people think of you,” Boettcher told CNN on Monday. “In my own instance, I felt like people were treating me like a fragile egg. So I felt I had something to prove.”

Intense scrutiny expected

Bergdahl went missing on June 30, 2009, in Afghanistan’s Paktika province, where he was deployed with the 1st Battalion, 501st Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division.

Some critics of the swap have said Bergdahl was a deserter who endangered colleagues searching for him.

An Army fact-finding investigation conducted in the months after his disappearance concluded he left his outpost deliberately and of his own free will, according to an official who was briefed on the report.

But there was no definitive conclusion because that would require knowing Bergdahl’s intent — something officials couldn’t learn without talking to him, a U.S. military official has said.

Troops in Afganistan have strong feelings about the case, said Boettcher, who was embedded with elite U.S. forces there, an experience told in the documentary “The Hornet’s Nest.” They were talking about Bergdahl and wanted to know what happened.

“I think that the military will still try to control the environment around him and that’s why they have those soldiers there (to help him readjust),” the journalist said. “I’m around soldiers all the time and people talk about this. He’s going to be faced with this.”

When Bergdahl begins his new duties, scrutiny from peers will be intense and constant, said M. David Rudd, who specializes in mental health trauma. He is a former dean of the University of Utah’s College of Social and Behavioral Science and was also the president of the American Association of Suicidology.

“The stress level is going to increase dramatically,” said Rudd, who is now the president of the University of Memphis. “The issue of stigma in the military — the circumstances that surround his disappearance and the questions raised … are probably going to provoke significant passions” in other troops.

Formal investigation under way

The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. Carl Levin, said each of the Joint Chiefs of Staff supported Bergdahl’s repatriation.

“Each of these military leaders emphasized a simple principle — America does not leave its troops behind,” Levin said. “The unanimous support of the Joint Chiefs for securing Sgt. Bergdahl’s release is a powerful statement on the importance of that commitment.”

Maj. Gen. Kenneth Dahl is leading the Army’s formal Bergdahl investigation, which will review previous findings.

The two-star general could ask to interview again anyone who can shed light on the case.

Talking to Bergdahl himself would likely be the last step in the investigation, one official said.