Last week the Pacific Council had the honor of hosting former President George W. Bush at our 2017 Gala Dinner. The event was a success on many levels and was the first time a former president of the United States spoke at a Pacific Council event. We are grateful to President Bush for his time and perspective offered at the Gala and to the generous supporters who made the evening possible.
This year, President Bush published a book of oil paintings and stories called Portraits of Courage to honor America’s military veterans. Here we include an excerpt from the book’s introduction and one of the featured stories. Portraits of Courage is available for purchase through the George W. Bush Presidential Center.
Painting as a Passion
I’ve been plenty busy since leaving the White House. I’ve written two books. Laura and I travel frequently, giving speeches and raising money for the George W. Bush Presidential Center. Much of our time is dedicated to the programs and initiatives of our policy institute there. I took up golf after a six-year hiatus. I stay in shape on the mountain bike trails in Dallas and on my ranch. Lately, Laura and I have reveled in the joys of grandparenthood. But despite all of these pursuits, my life didn’t seem complete. I wanted a new adventure—within the confines of the post-presidential bubble.
In September 2015, I started painting the 98 men and women who are featured in my book, Portraits of Courage.
I studied the stories and photographs of the warriors [from the W100K mountain bike rides and Warrior Open golf outings put on by the Bush Institute]. As I painted them, I thought about their backgrounds, their time in the military, and the issues they dealt with as a result of combat—many from visible injuries, others from invisible wounds such as post-traumatic stress (PTS) and traumatic brain injury (TBI). Most of the paintings are closely cropped portraits that I hope give viewers a sense of the remarkable character of these men and women. I wanted to show their determination to recover, lack of self-pity, and desire to continue to serve in new ways as civilians.
I painted these men and women as a way to honor their service to the country and to show my respect for their sacrifice and courage. I hope to draw attention to the challenges some face when they come home and transition to civilian life—and the need for our country to better address them. At the Bush Institute, our Military Service Initiative is focused on these issues, and the net proceeds from this book will be donated in support of our work.
Sergeant First Class Jacque Keeslar, United States Army, 1990-2011
Jacque "Jake" Keeslar joined the Army in 1990. "All I wanted to do was jump out of planes," he says. He found that Army life suited him. He was proud of his service—of "doing the right thing"—and decided early on that he wanted to complete a 20-year military career.
So in 2006, when Jake "got blown up" in Iraq, as he put it, the first thing he told his commander was that his injuries wouldn’t retire him. But the IED that Jake’s Stryker vehicle had hit resulted in the amputation of both his legs, one above the knee and one below. "When I woke up, I realized I was shorter than I used to be," he says. Not the kind of man to sit around, Jake told his doctors, "Well, let’s get the legs! Let’s get up and go!"
"The therapy that I received at Walter Reed was top-notch," Jake says. He spent 18 months there recovering and found golf to be an effective form of rehabilitation. The varying terrain of the course helped him learn how to walk on his new prosthetic legs. Swinging a club while keeping his balance helped him find his new equilibrium. Sand traps were a two-for-one bargain—the challenge of climbing in and out of them helped him hone is game to avoid them.
After his injury, Jake returned to active duty for another five years in a unit that helps wounded veterans transition to civilian life. "We helped the wounded guys coming home get the right treatment, get the right programs, and everything they needed." His last assignment was as a platoon sergeant for a wounded warrior unit in San Diego, California—Jake’s home state. He and his wife, Vanessa, live in Temecula, where Jake recently graduated from Professional Golfers Career College. He retired after serving honorably in the U.S. Army for 21 years.
George W. Bush was the 43rd president of the United States. Learn more about his book, Portraits of Courage, and his exhibit of oil paintings at the George W. Bush Presidential Center.
The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Pacific Council.