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Rescued Americans are healthy, reuniting with families

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  • NEW: Three Americans had medical tests; doctors say they are healthy
  • Ex-hostages and relatives express joy at rescue operation
  • Marc Gonsalves, Thomas Howes and Keith Stansell U.S. government contractors
  • Colombian rebels captured three men in 2003 when their plane crashed
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SAN ANTONIO, Texas (CNN) -- The three Americans rescued Wednesday after more than five years in captivity in the jungles of Colombia appear to be in good health, doctors said Thursday.

"They're very resilient, they're very stress-hardy and they're doing very well, and so I think that certainly is a good-news story," said Col. Carl Dickens, a psychologist at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas.

Marc Gonsalves, Thomas Howes and Keith Stansell arrived there late Wednesday on an Air Force C-17 to undergo a battery of medical tests and debriefings.

All three are U.S. government contractors who were captured by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, in February 2003 when their plane crashed in a remote region of the country.

They will begin reuniting with their families Thursday.

"They are very grateful, very excited to be home," said Air Force staff Sgt. Daryl Bradley, who accompanied the three men on the flight Wednesday from Colombia to Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio. Video Watch CNN's Brian Todd report on the hostages' return »

"They can't wait to see their families, can't wait to see the differences in the United States, and they're just absolutely pleased to be home." Learn about the freed hostages »

A plane the men were on crashed in February 2003 in a remote region of Colombia.

They were among 15 hostages, including ex-Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, rescued Wednesday in a Colombian military operation. Read how the military faked out the rebels

The FARC still holds more than 700 hostages in camps scattered throughout the jungle.

Bradley, who is a paramedic, earlier said all three Americans appeared to be in good medical condition.

Marc Gonsalves' father said he would see his son Thursday.

"We have a lot to talk about," George Gonsalves told CNN's "American Morning."

"There's been a lot of things that have happened, and I'm sure there's a lot of things that have happened with him that we'd certainly like to exchange a little conversation for about two or three hours anyway."

Keith Stansell said he was on the beach when his stepfather called with the news of his father's release.

"I didn't even know what to do," he said. "I just started freaking out -- screaming, yelling. I ran as fast as I could off the beach." Video Watch the Stansell family eagerly await the former captive's return »

His sister, Lauren, said she was at home when the phone rang with the news.

"I knew when I heard the other voice that she had good news. I knew it was good news about Dad," she said.

Amanda Howes said she learned about her uncle Thomas Howes' release from a bulletin on her computer at a TV station, where she works in Boston, Massachusetts.

"A news alert crossed on the bottom of the screen, I click on it and it's this wonderful news," she said. "I literally screamed with enjoyment. I started shaking. Of course, everyone was like ... 'What's the hot news tip?' "

Adm. James Stavridis, head of the U.S. military's Southern Command, has kept a picture of the hostages on his desk since taking his post in 2006 and said their release has been one of his top priorities.

"You could hear the cheers throughout the building when we announced the success of the rescue," he said. Video Watch the hostages land on U.S. soil »

The U.S. government considers the FARC a terrorist group and has refused to negotiate with it while publicly urging the rebels to release the Americans.

The FARC, which has fought a long-standing and complicated conflict with Colombia's government and right-wing paramilitary groups, defends the taking of captives as a legitimate act of war. Background on FARC »

Before news of the rescue broke Wednesday, U.S. Sen. John McCain, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, said he had mentioned the three Americans in talks with government officials during his visit to Colombia -- part of a three-day trip to Latin America -- and that Colombian President Alvaro Uribe had briefed him on the planned raid Tuesday night.

"It is great news," McCain said. "Now we must renew our efforts to free all of the other innocent people held hostage."

Months after the men's capture, a Colombian journalist filmed the three at a rebel camp, where FARC commanders branded them CIA spies and prisoners of war. A few months ago, family members saw footage of their loved ones from a captured rebel video.

"It's been a long haul here," George Gonsalves said at the time. "It has been a very trying experience, to say the least, not knowing how he is doing, what he is doing." The video showed Marc Gonsalves brushing bugs away from his face and Stansell staring silently into the camera.

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Only Howes spoke, giving details about his will and telling his wife that he was proud of her.

"You think every year is going to be the year," George Gonsalves said. "That is what I thought last year and certainly I'll hope for that this year."

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