SAN ANTONIO (Reuters) - U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, who spent five years as a Taliban prisoner of war before being released on May 31, was in stable condition at a military hospital in Texas and has not yet met with his parents, military officials said on Friday. Bergdahl, who arrived in the pre-dawn hours of Friday on a military flight from Germany, was in a good enough physical condition to meet with debriefers but has not been informed of the controversy surrounding his capture, the officials said.
“What we are trying to do is get him to recognize that the coping skills he used to survive this long, five-year ordeal may not be healthy and functional now,” Colonel Bradley Poppen, an Army psychologist, told a news conference held near the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio where Bergdahl will receive care.
No timeline has been set for his recovery, said officials who declined to give any further details about contacts between Bergdahl and his family to respect their privacy.
While the Army also gave little information about Bergdahl’s health and emotional state, officials said they were pleased with his physical state on arrival.
“He appeared just like any sergeant would, when they see a two-star general: A little bit nervous. But he looked good,” said Major General Joseph DiSalvo. Bergdahl had been able to walk into the hospital, and was settling in after a long transatlantic flight from Germany.
The military hospital has teams of specialists and has been helping returning prisoners of war for decades.
Bergdahl has had one request when it comes to food, military officials said - peanut butter.
Bergdahl was handed over to U.S. forces in Afghanistan in exchange for five Taliban leaders held at Guantanamo prison in Cuba. His release initially sparked a wave of support that was quickly overshadowed by a political uproar over the freeing of the senior Taliban members. Lawmakers criticized the Obama administration for failing to give them 30 days’ notice before transferring prisoners from Guantanamo as required by law. Some charged that in doing the exchange, the administration had effectively violated its policy against negotiating with terrorists.
Some of Bergdahl’s former comrades in Afghanistan alleged he had deserted when he walked away from his post, in circumstances that are unclear, and was later captured.
Bergdahl’s return to U.S. soil was quietly welcomed in his hometown of Hailey in central Idaho, where businesses and supporters of the Bergdahl family have received hate mail and phone calls from detractors labeling the Army sergeant a deserter and traitor.
“We’re still standing with Bowe,” said Sue Martin, owner of Zaney’s River Street Coffee House, where Bergdahl worked before enlisting.
“He has the personal insight and the intelligence to be able to address this long period of healing,” she said.
Bergdahl’s parents, Bob and Jani Bergdahl, were expected to travel to Texas from Idaho, although it was not immediately clear when, or whether they had spoken with their son.
In a statement on behalf of the family, the Bergdahls said they do not intend to make their travel plans public.
“They ask for continued privacy as they concentrate on their son’s reintegration,” the statement said.
Additional reporting by David Alexander in Washington, Laura Zuckerman in Hailey, Idaho and Curtis Skinner in New York; Writing by Jon Herskovitz and Cynthia Johnston; Editing by Catherine Evans, Susan Heavey and Jim Loney