Washington: For Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, the journey home to Idaho began with a brief, dramatic helicopter ride from the rugged landscape of eastern Afghanistan to Bagram Air Base north of Kabul. His return to anything close to a normal life will take much longer, the sergeant's father said.
Freed soldier's ex: 'What do I do now?'
Monica Lee was 19 when her boyfriend Bowe Bergdahl was kidnapped by the Taliban. He has just been released after five years in captivity, Monica meanwhile has moved on with her life, finding love elsewhere.
The sole American prisoner of war was held in Afghanistan for nearly five years, and was released in a swap deal for five Taliban militants who were released from the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba.
"Bowe's been gone so long that it's going to take him a long time to come back," Robert Bergdahl said, his voice breaking occasionally. He likened the process to a deep-sea diver's decompressing before rising to the surface.
Along with that, Sergeant Bergdahl's former girlfriend has moved on with her life. Monica Lee was stunned when she heard the news about the soldier's release, her mother told Britain's Daily Mail: "What do I do now?" Ms Lee, 25, asked her mother.
As his time in captivity went on, Sergeant Bergdahl told Ms Lee not to wait for him, the newspaper reported. "She was told to go on with her life, but she waited a long time," Allison Lee said. 'It's been pretty emotionally draining and she's had her ups and downs. The sheer loneliness has been pretty tough on her."
Ms Lee, who was 19 when Sergeant Bergdahl was captured, has known the soldier and his family since she was a child, and has maintained a relationship with his parents.
It was through messages to his parents that Sergeant Bergdahl was able to tell Ms Lee to move on: "He said he wanted her to go with with her life, and not feel like she had to wait. No one knew how long he would be held for," Mrs Lee told the Daily Mail.
Her daughter was "excited" about the soldier's return, Mrs Lee said, adding "We're just so thankful, and excited, and hope to see Bowe," the paper reported.
Experts on long-term captivity said Sergeant Bergdahl, who was held by Taliban fighters in utter isolation and unrelenting deprivation, was not only physically weakened, but also probably suffering deep psychological wounds from his ordeal.
His recovery, they said, will be a multi-step process, beginning with medical treatment and a psychological evaluation at a US military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, and continuing at a military medical centre in Texas before he finally goes home to Hailey, Idaho.
Even then, Sergeant Bergdahl, 28, will most likely receive psychological counseling for months, if not years, to help him deal with the trauma of his years in captivity and the disorientation of sudden freedom. How fast or fully he recovers, experts said, is difficult to predict.
The Obama administration cited Sergeant Bergdahl's deteriorating health as the reason it moved so quickly over the past several days to obtain his release, trading five battle-scarred Taliban fighters being held in the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel said the United States had intelligence indicating that Sergeant Bergdahl's "safety and health were both in jeopardy and, in particular, his health was deteriorating". Speaking in Afghanistan, Mr Hagel said the administration seized an opening to arrange the prisoner exchange "essentially to save his life".
New York Times, wires