Bowe Bergdahl’s Return to Active Duty: Is He Really ‘Reintegrated’?

Scott Olson/Getty Images

Scott Olson/Getty Images

With any “normal” deployment experience, there is a degree of reintegration that takes place upon returning from active duty. When a military member returns and has suffered trauma, the reintegration process is somewhat different. And in the case of Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl — who was held captive by the Taliban in Afghanistan for just under five years — reintegration is a whole other ball game. It’s also one that’s made far more complicated by its publicity and the events surrounding his disappearance and return. So it comes as rather a surprise that Bergdahl’s reintegration process is over, and he’s returned to active duty.

From the time he was taken back into U.S. hands until now, officials have described him as going through ‘reintegration’ and receiving the professional help he needs. It’s worth taking a look at what’s taken place in the interim after his homecoming and just what the latest announcement means.

Sgt. Bergdahl has completed the final phase of the reintegration process under the control of U.S. Army South and is currently being assigned to U.S. Army North, Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston (JBSA),” said the Army in a statement according to Time. “He will now return to regular duty within the command where he can contribute to the mission.”

This announcement has sparked a flurry of suspicions and protestations on his reliability and trustworthiness. Trading him for five members of the Taliban was made particularly controversial with many suspecting that — based on various evidence including letters and packages sent home — when he’d left the base in Afghanistan five years ago, he’d been intending to desert. The investigation into this is still ongoing and reports say he will soon be interviewed by the head of the investigation, Brig General Kenneth Dahl. A private attorney for Bergdahl will be present for the interview.

As a result of this controversy, some see his return to duty as a publicity stunt more than anything else. His active duty will include a desk position in U.S. Army North Headquarters, working on domestic defense efforts. Despite the continued investigation Army North spokesman Don Manuszewski told New York Magazine that  Bergdahl will be able to leave the base and is able to “participate in the same on and off-post opportunities as any other soldier.” He will be in a private room but will live amidst other soldiers “who are providing leadership and guidance,” said Manuszewski.

The National Association of School Psychologists has a report on “Military Deployment and Family Reintegration,” and in it both reconnecting with family and dealing with the public view of war are listed as common concerns of reintegration. Both appear to be concerns that Bergdahl may have in spades — though as always analysis of a man without open insight is always somewhat futile and prone to inaccuracy. However, back when Bergdahl was first returned to American custody in Germany, an American official told The New York Times that “Physically, he could be put on a plane to the U.S. tomorrow, but there are still a couple of mental criteria to address: The family unification piece and the media exposure piece.”

Yet neither appear to be entirely resolved. Family is something most news organizations have mentioned as a possible concern — The Wall Street Journal reports an Army officials has said Bergdahl has not spoken with his family yet, either in person over over the telephone. While initially officials took the silence in stride, saying it was not an unusual reaction for recently returned captives, officials have told The WSJ that they are unsure of the reason for the continued silence. Another Army official stated that the family has placed strict rules on what can be publicized by the military regarding Bergdahl and have asked that their communication with their son not be discussed with the media. As such, a spokesman gave no comment to The WSJ on Bergdahl and his family.

During his imprisonment Bergdahl’s father, Robert Bergdahl had become a loud voice calling for the return of his son, and both Mr. and Mrs. Bergdahl stood with the President in the Rose Garden upon the news that their son would be returned. The initial plan his reintegration called for medical release, therapy and counseling in San Antonio, and “a carefully managed homecoming in Hailey, Idaho” and that “at some point, he [would] speak by phone with his family, and be reunited with them” reports The NYT.

He has also reportedly asked that he not be called “sergeant” while in the hospital, according to an American official who spoke with The NYT. “He says ‘Don’t call me that,’” said the official. The promotion was one of two routine bumps that took place while he was being held captive. “‘I didn’t go before the boards, I didn’t earn it,’” the official quoted him.

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