Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl arrived back on American soil on Friday but his parents were not on hand to meet him — and he will decide when that happens, officials said.
"It is a returnee's choice," Col. Bradley Poppen said during a briefing at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio. "The family understands that process at this point in time."
The parents, who appeared at a White House announcement of his release two weeks ago, said in a statement that they are "overjoyed" he is back in the United States but pleaded for privacy.
After five years in captivity in Afghanistan, Bergdahl was freed by the Taliban on May 31 in exchange for five Guantanamo Bay detainees who were transferred to Qatar.
As the Idaho native completed the first two phases of what the Army calls reintegration at a military hospital in Germany, debate has raged about the murky circumstances of his capture and the Taliban prisoner swap that secured his freedom, officials said.
Base officials said Bergdahl will be exposed to the controversy very gradually, and he will be allowed to set the pace of his "reintegration" and debriefing.
When he arrived in San Antonio at 1:40 a.m., "he appeared just like any sergeant would when they see a two-star general — a little bit nervous," Maj. Gen. Joseph DiSalvo said at an afternoon briefing.
"But he looked good."
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Bergdahl, who was in uniform, was taken to his room and allowed to settle in and rest before he began meeting with health-care professionals.
Poppen said the reintegration teams will slowly increase opportunities for Bergdahl to make choices and assume a sense of control that he lost during captivity.
He was started off on bland food but will be able to make requests. "Peanut butter is a favorite," Col. Ronald Wool said.
Bergdahl will also be encouraged to tell the story of his captivity and make plans for the future.
"The goal of reintegration is to return a soldier to duty," Poppen said.
Some of Bergdahl's fellow former soldiers have portrayed him as a deserter who walked off a remote outpost in eastern Afghanistan in June 2009 before he was captured.
They claim other service members were killed looking for him, but Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel disputed that during a congressional hearing Wednesday.
The Pentagon says the details of how Bergdahl ended up in enemy hands will be investigated, but has defended the secret deal that freed him. President Barack Obama also has defended the swap.
Some members of Congress have complained that they were not told of the deal ahead of time and that the five Taliban detainees transferred out of Guantanamo Bay to Qatar were too dangerous to free.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who was a prisoner of war during Vietnam, has been critical of the swap. But as Bergdahl returned to the United States, he said he had just one message for him: "Welcome home."
"The proper investigation will take place and we should not make any judgment until that investigation takes place," McCain told Andrea Mitchell on MSNBC.
"We need to take into account he did spend five years under horrific conditions," he said, adding that anything Bergdahl said or wrote while he was being held should not be used against him.
"In captivity, you are not free to write what you want, so to me that is totally irrelevant to this conversation."
First published June 13 2014, 12:29 PM