(RNS) The newly freed soldier who spent nearly five years in captivity in Afghanistan has the mental and physical toughness to survive the experience, his former pastor said.
Bowe Bergdahl grew up in a conservative Christian family in Idaho, studied ballet, was home-schooled, spent time in a Buddhist monastery and finally served in a parachute infantry regiment of the Army’s 25th Infantry Division.
“If there’s anybody I can think of pulling through this, and doing well, it’s Bowe,” said Philip Proctor, who was pastor of Sovereign Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Boise, Idaho, when Bergdahl was a teenager.
“He has the mental and physical stamina not to be crushed by this experience,” Proctor said.
Bergdahl — the last service member unaccounted for in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars — was released Saturday (May 31) after being captured in 2009. The 28-year-old soldier is at a medical clinic in the U.S. base at Bagram, Afghanistan, said Army Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale, a spokesman for the Department of Defense. Bergdahl will eventually travel to Germany before heading back to the States.
At the White House on Saturday evening, Bergdahl’s parents, Bob and Jani, joined President Obama, who praised the troops and government officials who rescued their son.
“We will continue to stay strong for Bowe while he recovers,” Jani Bergdahl said after Obama turned the podium over to her.
Bob Bergdahl said he is not sure whether his son can still speak English, and he made some of his remarks in what appeared to be the Pashto language. “I’m your father, Bowe,” he said at one point.
Bob Bergdahl quit his job as a driver for UPS two or three years before retirement so he could spend all his time trying to win the release of his son, Proctor said.
Although raised in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Bowe Bergdahl spent time during his late teens in a Buddhist monastery in the Pacific Northwest.
“He was going through an exploratory phase in life. He’d grown up in a conservative Christian home and he was trying to figure out if this was his faith or his parents’ faith,” said Proctor.
Bergdahl’s decision to join the military wasn’t a surprise to people who knew him.
It came partly out of a desire “to better understand a different part of the world and to try to see for himself what was going on,” Proctor said. “That would be a very Bowe thing to do.”
(Elizabeth Weise writes for USA Today. Also contributing: David Jackson in Washington, D.C.; KTVB in Hailey, Idaho)