Army Major Jim Anderson has logged more than 17 years of active duty in the Balkans, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Yet, most of the wounds he has suffered aren’t visible.
Thursday morning, just before dawn in Waco, Texas, I stood outside the Hotel Indigo and spoke with him for Fox News about his long battle against Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). More than 200,000 Army veterans suffer from this condition.
Anderson said that the stigma surrounding this debilitating illness has begun to diminish, replaced by therapy and support. At Anderson’s side was his son Langston a source of inspiration and pride for his dad.
Another source of inspiration for Anderson is former president George W. Bush. A leader who is “a man of such character in the face of adversity.”
Bush himself was inspired by Abraham Lincoln, who famously urged the nation in his second inaugural address "to care for him who shall have borne the battle" and who -- a month before he was assassinated -- signed a new law creating a National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers.
Fifteen wounded warriors rode with President Bush this year for the Third Annual Bush Center W100K Wounded Warrior Mountain Bike Ride. It was the first time that the mountain bike ride took place on his pastoral ranch outside Crawford Texas, where 43 miles of trails have been built.
Several of the participants told me that they were deeply affected by President Bush’s ability to perform as one of them; spending hours as host talking and joking with them, leading the pack up the pristine wooded and rock-covered single-track trails.
This is the first time a former president has conducted an event of this kind; the first time since Lincoln that one has converted his feelings for the troops into an endeavor to promote awareness and appreciate for the problems facing veterans.
The ride this year takes place over Memorial Day weekend, and I asked the warriors what it felt like to be alive when so many of their friends and comrades didn’t make it.
I spoke with Major Kent Solheim -- a soldier whose leg was amputated below the knee following hand to hand combat in Iraq -- yet doesn’t consider himself disabled.
He told me that Memorial Day makes him feel sad, but also lucky to be alive. Photos on the wall remind him of his fallen comrades, some of whom died alongside him during battle in Iraq.
Mountain biking with the former president serves as a metaphor for what many call returning to “the new normal.” Riding up and down the hills, falling yet picking yourself back up and riding on.
Wounded warriors work as a team to recover just as they once worked as a cohesive team in the military. President Bush and the Bush Center help the vets on their way to attaining the new normal.
As observer and reporter, I must admit that I have also been infected by the optimism and spiritual strength that President Bush and the warriors are showing.
I have begun to exercise daily, on the elliptical and the bike, and have been riding a mountain bike on some of the more difficult trails in East Hampton, New York in preparation for this ride.
I was more prepared this year for the twists and turns of the tight trail and didn't fall. I soon reached the middle of the pack.
When President Bush, coming at me from the other direction, leading the riders like a locomotive at the front of a train, looked up and saw me he called out "Doc!!" That single note of appreciation and respect for what I'd accomplished gave me the strength to ride on.