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This file image provided by IntelCenter on Dec. 8, 2010, shows a frame grab from a video released by the Taliban containing footage of a man believed to be Bowe Bergdahl, left. / AP

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 servicemember unaccounted for in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars - was released Saturday after being captured in 2009. The 28-year-old soldier is currently 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. He'll 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, the sergeant's father, 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 Pashtun language. "I'm your father, Bowe," the elder Bergdahl 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, adding the family traveled to Washington, D.C., often to meet with officials about their son.

Although raised in the Orthodox Presbyterian church, when he was in his late teens, Bergdahl spent time 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," said Proctor. "That would be a very Bowe thing to do."

News of Bergdahl's release spread quickly in his hometown, where residents began planning a welcome home celebration, the Associated Press reported. An annual event called "Bring Bowe Back" scheduled for June 28 was quickly renamed "Bowe Is Back."

People in the Wood River Valley community, which includes Hailey, began celebrating Bergdahl's release as soon as they got the news, and they say it's a celebration that's been a long time coming.

"I got tingly. I thought it was great because I know the parents, or I know his dad, and just I can't, I couldn't, imagine the joy that they're feeling," said Wood River Valley resident Mark Swenke.

Rachael Malone, who works in Bergdahl's hometown of Hailey, tied balloons to street signs and light poles around town to help spread the message that Bergdahl is finally free.

"I think it's great. He's been gone for a while and I think that it'll be really nice for everybody to see him back here," she said.

Contributing: David Jackson in Washington, D.C., KTVB in Hailey, Idaho.



Copyright 2014 USATODAY.com

Read the original story: Pastor: Released soldier has mental toughness to recover

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