Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s whirlwind year has included the following: captivity in Pakistan, an exchange for Taliban officials in Afghanistan that yielded his freedom, and a highly publicized and politicized debate about whether the Obama administration botched the handling of his case.
Now, it will include the following, too: a new active-duty unit.
Army officials confirmed the move on Monday morning, saying the sergeant has completed the final phase of his reintegration process and will be assigned to U.S. Army North and Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston.
“He will now return to regular duty within the command where he can contribute to the mission,” Tatjana Christian, a spokeswoman for the Army, said in an e-mail. “The Army investigation into the facts and circumstances surrounding the disappearance and capture of Bergdahl is still ongoing.”
The news was first reported late Sunday by the New York Times. Bergdahl will take a new job even though he could still face charges as a deserter — an investigation into how Bergdahl fell into the hands of insurgent forces in eastern Afghanistan in 2009 is still ongoing, and it’s likely that he will be among the last to be interviewed, CNN reported. That is a somewhat common practice in federal investigations as authorities work their way toward the main subject of an investigation.
An Army investigation conducted shortly after Bergdahl disappeared on June 30, 2009, is said to have determined that he chose to walk away from his unit’s patrol base in Paktika province. To charge him with desertion, however, the Army will need to determine his intent. In the meantime, his pending change in status has drawn reactions like these:
BREAKING: Bergdahl has finished counseling in Texas, could return to active duty as early as today. Because everything’s just peachy.
— JΞSTΞR ✪ ACTUAL™ (@th3j35t3r) July 14, 2014
— Karen Vaughn (@ForOurSon) July 14, 2014
That last tweet is from Karen Vaughn. Her son Aaron, a Navy SEAL, was among the U.S. personnel killed Aug. 6, 2011, when Taliban fighters shot down a helicopter carrying 38 men and a military working dog. All aboard were killed.
Bergdahl’s change in status comes after two new twists in the last week. In the first, the Taliban released what appeared to be a photo of the soldier with Badruddin Haqqani, a leader of the militant Haqqani network who was killed in a suspected U.S. airstrike in August 2012. Pentagon officials have dismissed that as “100 percent propaganda,” saying Bergdahl faced brutal conditions while in captivity for five years.
On Thursday, Sen. Carl Levin (D.-Mich.) also released letters from each of the Joint Chiefs that showed they supported the repatriation of Bergdahl, though the service chiefs each said they were not consulted before the decision was made.
“I was not consulted in any way, either in my role as Chief of Staff of the Army or as member of the Joint Chiefs, prior to the release SGT Bergdahl,” said Army Gen. Ray Odierno in his letter, dated July 9. “I firmly believe that the recovery of any American service member held as a captive, hostage or prisoner of war, regardless of the circumstances, is both a moral imperative and vital to keeping faith within our Army.”
“I am confident that the exigency of Sgt Bergdahl’s release was balanced against an assessment of the dangers posed by the release of the Taliban detainees,” said Marine Commandant Gen. James Amos in his letter. “That said, absent the context of the deliberations and discussions surrounding this decision, I am simply not in a position to provide an informed response.”
UPDATE: July 14, 3:30 p.m.: This post has been updated to clarify that the change in Bergdahl’s status is his assignment to a new active-duty unit.