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Soldiers smiling through the pain

SAN ANTONIO, Texas – The human spirit never fails to amaze me. Our ability to overcome adversity, to fight for the things that really matter, to struggle against the odds.

Nowhere is that spirit more obvious or inspiring than here at the Center for the Intrepid in San Antonio – a high-tech rehabilitation facility at Brooke Army Medical Center, built entirely through private donations.  It's where hundreds of service members who've been badly wounded in combat begin the long and painful road to recovery.

I arrived at the center this morning, several hours in advance of President Bush's visit this afternoon. What a humbling experience.

There are hundreds of men and women here, recovering from horrific wounds. Burns, amputations, blindness. They have suffered and lost, and paid the price for service.

Yet, most are smiling – even through pain.

Uncanny ability to 'smoke and joke'

I'm not sure I can explain why. Soldiers and Marines have always had an uncanny ability to "smoke and joke" under extreme circumstances. I saw lots of that today. Men and women, some burned beyond recognition or with only two limbs, sitting in the warm sunshine, telling stories, anticipating the president's arrival.

Some clearly want to prove they're tough.  They have state-of-the-art equipment at their disposal, but it's still up to them to put in the endless hours of rehab. 

image:  President Bush and soldier<br />
U.S. President George W. Bush is presented a T-shirt from Lance Cpl. Isaac Gallegos during a visit to the Center for the Intrepid at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas, November 8, 2007.

One soldier said it was a big boost for morale for Bush to come and meet them. He wanted the president to know he missed his buddies in Afghanistan and that he's looking forward to rejoining the fight – with his one good leg.

Bush, for his part, marveled at the technology. He watched amputees climb a rock wall using prosthetic limbs. He offered encouragement to a soldier who had lost both legs as he balanced on a fitness ball. He spent time talking with dozens of soldiers and thanked them for their service. He came and went.

But the men and women who need this place can't leave just yet. They have much work to do, fighting to regain any version of normalcy. And smiling.