Sgt. Bergdahl's Hometown Rejoices At His Long-Awaited Release Bowe Bergdahl spent five years in Taliban captivity; he was released Saturday. He is still weeks away from returning to his hometown of Hailey, Idaho, where residents are celebrating his freedom.
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Sgt. Bergdahl's Hometown Rejoices At His Long-Awaited Release

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Sgt. Bergdahl's Hometown Rejoices At His Long-Awaited Release

Sgt. Bergdahl's Hometown Rejoices At His Long-Awaited Release

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

On a Monday morning it's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And I'm David Greene. Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl has been free for several days now. In Idaho, family and friends are ready to greet him. They've waited five years for a moment they were never sure would come. Bergdahl was captured and held by the Taliban, first in Afghanistan and later, it's believed, in Pakistan. On Saturday, he was released in a swap for five Taliban detainees held at Guantanamo Bay. In a moment, we'll hear why some believe that was too high a price to pay for his release. But first to Bergdahl's home state of Idaho and this report from Jessica Robinson of the Northwest News Network.

JESSICA ROBINSON, BYLINE: On Sunday afternoon, Bob and Jenny Bergdahl stood before rows of reporters in an auditorium at Gowen Field in Boise. They've spent the last five years both hoping for and dreading news out of Afghanistan. Finally the news was good. Jenny Bergdahl spoke to her son through the TV cameras.

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JENNY BERGDAHL: You've made it. I imagine you're more patient and compassionate than ever. You are free. Freedom is yours. I will see you soon, my beloved son. I love you, Bowe.

ROBINSON: The Bergdahls don't yet know when they will get a chance to see him. Right now their son is working with a medical team in Germany on his mental and physical recovery. Bob Bergdahl, like his wife, took this opportunity to speak to his son directly. He told his son he admired his character and patience during his captivity.

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BOB BERGDAHL: 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.

ROBINSON: Bowe Bergdahl grew up down a road that quickly turns to gravel in one of the canyons around Hailey, Idaho. He defied stereotypes. Around town, he was known as an excellent marksman and a ballet dancer. He loved to be alone in the mountains but was also happy just talking to people in town. Friends say Bergdahl also craved a way to do something important in the world. And in 2008, Bergdahl saw enlisting in the Army as his opportunity. But about six months into his deployment in Afghanistan, Bergdahl went missing from his base. A few weeks later, he turned up in a Taliban propaganda video.

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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: What's your name?

SGT. BOWE BERGDAHL: My name is Bowe Bergdahl.

ROBINSON: In the video, Bergdahl says he was captured while lagging behind on a patrol. But questions about whether he deserted still linger. In 2012, Rolling Stone published emails between Bergdahl and his father suggesting Bowe was disillusioned by the military's role in Afghanistan. The details of what happened that day are unclear. The military has always said it will get answers to those questions when Bergdahl returns. That hasn't stopped some veterans' groups and POW advocates from rallying around Bergdahl. Last year hundreds of supporters on motorcycles attended an event for Bergdahl in his hometown. Lynette (ph) Schimen drove all the way from Salt Lake City. She was frustrated that politicians weren't talking about Bergdahl more.

LYNETTE SCHIMEN: He's been the nation's best-kept secret for quite a while.

ROBINSON: All that changed on Saturday.

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PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Good afternoon everybody. This morning I called Bob and Janie Bergdahl and told them that after nearly five years in captivity, their son Bowe is coming home.

ROBINSON: President Obama announced that the U.S. had agreed to exchange five Taliban detainees at Guantanamo Bay for Sgt. Bergdahl. It was the news Hailey, Idaho had been waiting for. Word of Bergdahl's release spread through town fast, to a mix of excitement and tears. Ed (Ph) Northen sits at a coffee shop along Main Street. He got the news from a message his neighbors left.

ED NORTHEN: And we got home, listened to our answering machine. And they said, we're just celebrating the news. This is so great. And we went, what? So we went straight to the computer, went online and started reading what we could.

ROBINSON: Northen and his wife Carmen attend the same Presbyterian Church as the Bergdahls. Carmen (ph) Northen is irritated that some members of Congress are criticizing the prisoner exchange. She says after five years something needed to be done.

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CARMEN NORTHEN: If it was their son, they would do everything. And then - they have Bowe safely is the most important thing.

ROBINSON: Bowe Bergdahl likely won't return to his hometown for weeks, though. From Germany, he'll head to Texas to continue the reintegration process. At the press conference, Bob Bergdahl said it's hard for him and his wife to wait but...

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B. BERGDAHL: There's reason for that, and that's because Bowe has been gone so long that it's going to be very difficult to come back.

ROBINSON: It's a road that will be long and hard. And that's where Bergdahls say their mission has just begun. For NPR News, I'm Jessica Robinson.

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