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IRVING -- The contrast was stark; instead of the combat field, they were on a golf course.

Twenty-four former soldiers teeing it up with the former commander-in-chief presiding at the 3rd Annual Warrior Open at Las Colinas Country Club.

'Today's event is a testimony to people who've had the resolve to live life to the fullest,' said President George W. Bush.

The journey to earn this honor filled with service, sacrifice, and pain.

'Part of what this event does is showcase the resiliency of these men and women, and what they're able to continue to do and achieve after injury,' said retired Colonel Miguel Howe, who now serves as director of the Bush Center service initiative.

For many here, the toll combat has taken is apparent. Several of these soldiers have been outfitted with prosthetic arms and legs. One intrepid former soldier even took out his artificial eyeball to show President Bush.

But for many others, like retired Marine Staff Seargant Andrew Bachelder, who walks with only a slight limp, the wounds - both physical and psychological - are virtually invisible.

Bachelder joined the Marine Corps in 2002 and became a helicopter crew chief, flying to provide security for ground troops.

He recounted the night that changed his life, Oct. 26, 2009.

'Our missions was to escort two Army Chinooks [helicopters,]' Bachelder said. 'We lost sight of our lead helicopter. Somehow we got in front, or behind, I really don't remember, but we ended up colliding at about 500 feet.'

After the collision, the two choppers crashed to the ground and burst into flames. Bachelder was thrown from his and blacked out.

Four of six soldiers in those two helicopters died, including close friend Corporal Greg Fleury.

Bachelder saved the watch he was wearing. The charred remains give a glimpse into the hellish scene.

'I broke my back. I broke my pelvis,' Bachelder said. 'Basically, my femur bone came out of the hip socket - blew out of the hip socket. I had a broken shoulder, fractured right tibia-fibula, and I had six broken ribs.'

Add traumatic brain injury to the death-defying list, and doctors weren't sure the Lake Worth-native would live.

'They called my wife and all I could do was cry and tell her I was sorry,' Bachelder said.

'That's all I kept asking. 'Is he alive? Is he going to make it?'' said Bachelder's wife, Debbie. 'Those first 24 hours were excruciating. It just felt like a nightmare.'

And it was only the beginning. Bachelder spent months in hospitals, confined to a wheelchair for half-a-year. The rehab sessions were tedious and mentally-exhausting.

Bachelder's misery not uncommon. A survey conducted by the Wounded Warrior Project polled 13,000 soldiers, who like Bachelder, had been wounded in combat since 9/11. Nearly 70 percent screened positive for post-traumatic stress disorder.

'There is just a tremendous amount of emotional and social and spiritual turmoil,' Howe said.

The emotionally crippling grip of PTSD coupled with his other injuries caused the once out-going and spirited soldier to withdraw.

'Riding in helicopters was the best job I've ever had,' Bachelder said. 'And then when you're ripped out of it and plunked into sitting in a couch or bed-ridden and going through physical therapy. That can take a toll.'

'We were battling each other mentally and emotionally,' Debbie said. 'He's hurt. I'm hurt. The kids are hurt -- we're all hurt. It affected all of us, our entire family.'

After more than three years of the downward spiral, Bachelder says he lost all belief that there was something better, and he hit what he called 'rock bottom.'

'I always told myself that I would never ever try to kill myself, but in September 2012, I tried to kill myself,' he said.

The emotional and physical pain took over.

'You tear yourself away from your family. I pushed my family away. I pushed my friends away. I just kind of buried everything inside,' Bachelder said. 'I think a lot of it was also the survivor's guilt. 'Why why did I survive?''

Bachelder said he's doing better now, and calls his recovery a work in progress. And in this fight - the more rounds, the better.

'Me and the golf course, that's where I like to be. That's my oasis,' he said.

Life-long friend Josh Haynes was caddie and counselor at the Warrior Open. Their bond is closer than ever now, because even when Bachelder was considering suicide - which he never let on - he helped Haynes cope with his own personal issues.

'For somebody to do that [while] going through what he was going through really means the world. Nothing can ever replace that,' said a tearful Haynes.

The team did well in its first Warrior Open. Bachelder finished fourth.

He said it was an experience of a lifetime getting the opportunity to spend time with President Bush.

Golf and competition are certainly major parts of the Warrior Open, but it's also about so much more than that. For former soldiers, like Bachelder, it's also about motivation giving them reason and purpose to fight on.

'So it's a validation of their journey and their resilience as well as that of their families,' Howe said.

While the golf is great, a renewed sense of what's really important is Bachelder's best ally on the road to recovery.

'Building the strength around your family,' Bachelder said. 'Yeah, I see it now. There's more to live for.'

And more we need to know about the wounds of our warriors.

E-mail jtrahan@wfaa.com

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