|Bush Uses Golf Tournament to Help Wounded Veterans|
|By RICH McHUGH, JUSTIN WEAVER and MELISSA LUSTRIN||Sep 27, 2013, 3:26 AM|
Former President George W. Bush kicks off the third annual Warrior Open golf tournament that features 24 wounded combat veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan. The annual event is one of Bush's few public outings as he's enjoyed a busy private life that recently included a health scare and the birth of his first grandchild.
The Warrior Open is a competitive 36-hole golf tournament that ends Saturday in Irving, Texas. The event honors U.S. service members wounded in the war on terror during post 9/11 combat.
"The example of these folks out here today is an important example for our fellow citizens," Bush told ABC News' Josh Elliott. "You can either be defeated or defeat your injury. They all have chosen to defeat."
The golf outing is one of the signature events the Bush Institute's Military Service Initiative holds to honor the troops and encourage veterans who are using sports in their recovery.
Capt. Matt Anderson, 30, was an infantry platoon leader whose life took a drastic turn when he stepped on a land mine in Afghanistan.
"What happened to me was that if you took a cue ball and you put it on a pool table and you smashed it with a ball peen hammer. Try and put that back together and make it roll right," Anderson said.
After three years, 30 surgeries and constant lingering pain in his right foot, which he calls his "normal," Anderson took up golf as a therapy of sorts. Now, he's nearly a scratch golfer, meaning his average score for a round is par or better, and he spends his time teaching other wounded warriors the game.
"It's the hardest game out there," Anderson said, "But once they hit that one clean one that gets out there, you can see the little spark that gets in their eye and they're like, 'Let's go do this again.'"
Anderson made the life-altering decision to amputate his leg. The surgery will take place in January.
Anderson said "there's really no words" to describe what it means to have the support of the 43rd president.
"To have the full backing by the commander-in-chief, it's our little Super Bowl every year," he said.
For President Bush, the feeling is more than mutual as he tries to give back to the military.
"I'm still looking for ways to stay engaged with the people that made a huge difference in my life during the presidency," Bush said. "And our military personnel and the vets made a huge difference in my life, and I think in our country's life."
Bush said the courage shown by the Wounded Warriors is a great example of perseverance in the face of adversity and what "American strength" is all about.
"But every one of the people here who have said, 'I'm not going to allow my injury to get me down and I want to live life.' One way is to play golf," the former president said.
Since his self-imposed exile from Washington, D.C. and political bickering, Bush has stayed busy at home and opened his presidential library last April in Dallas. But last month, Bush faced a health scare when he underwent surgery to unblock an artery in his heart.
"Other than the fact I nearly bled to death when I nicked myself shaving, because I'm taking blood thinners, I'm doing pretty good. I thought you were going have to put a tourniquet on me," he joked.
Perhaps the biggest joy since leaving the White House was the birth of his first grandchild, Mila. Bush's youngest daughter, Jenna Hager, gave birth to Mila days before the library opened. Bush said the moment "completely captured" him and former first lady Laura Bush.
"It's a joy to watch Jenna mother her. It's a joy to watch Laura be a great grandmother. And, you know, I was telling Laura the other day, I can't wait to be able to take Mila around the ranch and answer all her questions about the trees and the animals and the grasses," he said.
Bush noted that there's a huge difference between being a father and grandparent.
"It's like a practice session in basketball versus a full-court press," he laughed. "I mean, you can show up and love and then pass back."
For more information on the Warrior Open and the highlighted Military Service Organizations it helps support, visit Bushcenter.org.