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After 5 years in captivity, Bowe Bergdahl to start work at Army post

By Barbara Starr, Ashley Fantz and Ed Lavandera, CNN
updated 3:14 PM EDT, Mon July 14, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl will take desk job at Army post in Texas, military spokesman says
  • Bergdahl has finished therapy at an Army hospital in San Antonio
  • Stress will "increase dramatically" for soldier, mental health expert says
  • He was released in May after five years in exchange for the U.S. freeing five Taliban members

(CNN) -- For five years, Taliban militants held Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl captive.

They released images of him from time to time. In one piece of footage, he appeared gaunt, eating slowly. In another, the soldier stood next to a bearded man with a gun and looked at the camera for a moment. Bergdahl's forehead was furrowed, and there appeared to be cuts on his face.

Fast forward to late May when the 28-year-old was freed in exchange for five senior Taliban members held by the U.S. military. The news of Bergdahl's freedom initially was met with jubilation, but it quickly turned as many called for an investigation into his disappearance and captivity. Some critics accused the soldier of deserting his comrades in war.

Less than two months later, the Army announced Monday that Bergdahl has completed medical care and mental counseling at an Army hospital in San Antonio.

He is going to get back to work, the Army said.

The soldier will soon take a desk job at Fort Sam Houston, said U.S. Army North spokesman Don Manuszewski

Bergdahl will be assigned to a unit responsible for homeland defense, civil support operations and security cooperation programs involving countries such as Canada, Mexico and the Bahamas.

Manuszewski wouldn't offer any details about what Bergdahl will be doing day to day but said the former captive will not be treated "any different than any other soldier."

When he's not in an office, Bergdahl will live in barracks and share a bathroom with other service members.

He'll have his own room, the spokesman said.

'Sponsor' to help Bergdahl readjust

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.

An Army fact-finding investigation conducted in the months after his disappearance concluded that Bergdahl 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. The last step in the investigation would likely include hearing Bergdahl's account.

At Fort Sam Houston, Bergdahl will have a "sponsor" to help him adjust to Army life again, Manuszewski said, which he called routine for anyone new at the post. The Army tries to match people who are of a similar age, with a sponsor sometimes being a few ranks above the post newcomer.

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

A lot of stress expected for soldier

Just how all this change will feel only Bergdahl will know. But there's little doubt scrutiny of him 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.

Some fellow soldiers have publicly blasted Bergdahl as a deserter.

Longtime war correspondent Mike Boettcher, who has worked in Afghanistan, said he believes Bergdahl is going to have a tough time readjusting.

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."

For Bergdahl's family, there will be change, too. The casualty assistance workers who helped the service member's relatives during his captivity will conclude their services Monday, Manuszewski said.

If Bergdahl's family members need help, they can call the post and ask for it.

"We are treating him the same way we would treat any other person assigned here," Manuszewski said. "If the family called ... we would do what we could to support them."

Col. Timothy Marsano, a spokesman for the family, declined to tell CNN if Bergdahl's new job assignment had brought any kind of communication between the soldier and his family. Since his release, there has not been a reunion, at least a public one.

In mid-June, the FBI said it was investigating threats against Bergdahl's parents.

Bergdahl venturing off-base, rubbing elbows with public

Fellow soldiers call Bergdahl a deserter

CNN's Holly Yan contributed to this report.

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