BOISE — The father of an American soldier just released from captivity in Afghanistan said Sunday that he is proud of how far his son, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, was willing to go to help the Afghan people.
Bob Bergdahl said he admired his son's patience, perseverance and ability to adapt during nearly five years as a prisoner of the Taliban. Bowe Bergdahl was freed Saturday in exchange for five Guantanamo terrorism detainees.
"But most of all, I'm proud of how much you wanted to help the Afghan people, and what you were willing to do to go to that length," Bob Bergdahl said, fighting back tears during a press conference in Boise.
"And I think you have succeeded," he added.
Parents Bob and Jani Bergdahl didn't elaborate on what his comments meant.
The circumstances surrounding Bergdahl's capture remain something of a mystery. There has been some speculation that he willingly walked away from his unit, raising the question of whether he could face charges.
In 2012, Rolling Stone magazine quoted emails Bergdahl is said to have sent to his parents that suggest he was disillusioned with America's mission in Afghanistan, had lost faith in the U.S. Army's mission there and was considering desertion. Bergdahl told his parents he was "ashamed to even be American." The Associated Press could not independently authenticate the emails.
Bergdahl's parents declined to take any questions at the press conference, but they spoke about what they anticipate will be a long healing process as their son reintegrates into American society.
"We're talking like this because we haven't talked to Bowe yet," Bob Bergdahl told the crowd of about three dozen journalists and nearly as many supporters of prisoners of war and those missing in action at the Idaho National Guard's Gowen Field. "That's because Bowe has been gone so long that it's going to be very difficult to come back."
Bowe Bergdahl will begin the reintegration process at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, where he will be given time to tell his story, decompress and reconnect with his family through telephone calls and video conferences, a U.S. defense official said Saturday. Eventually, he is expected to be taken to a military base in Texas to reunite with his family.
Bob Bergdahl urged Bowe to trust his military reintegration team, and Jani Bergdahl told her son to take all the time he needs to heal and decompress. They said they were grateful for the work that the U.S. government and other countries — including Qatar, which served as a go-between in the negotiations — did to bring their son home.
"You are from a strong tribe, you are even stronger now," Jani Bergdahl said. "Five years is a seemingly endless long time, but you've made it. ... You are free. Freedom is yours. I will see you soon, my beloved son."
The parents expected to head home to their small central Idaho town of Hailey on Sunday afternoon and be greeted by a community in celebration — yellow ribbons and support rallies have become a defining symbol of the region since Bergdahl was captured.
Bouquets of yellow balloons on the doors of Wood River Valley's Presbyterian church met congregants Sunday morning, and ushers handed out yellow ribbons.
"Praise God for Bowe's release," church greeters said in welcome.
The Bergdahls would give near weekly updates at the church on the efforts to bring their son home.
The service was performed by former pastor Al Oliver, who led the church for nearly 15 years and knows the Bergdahl family.
"I am so happy to return here today after a joyous event," Oliver said. "It's a great time for celebration."
An annual event called "Bring Bowe Back" scheduled for June 28 in Hailey has been renamed "Bowe is Back." Organizer Stefanie O'Neill said Saturday that it would be an early welcome-home party for the long-awaited soldier — even though he isn't all the way home quite yet.
Contributing: Kimberlee Kruesi