WASHINGTON, June 28, 2006 - President Bush kept his promise to a wounded soldier yesterday, jogging around the White House running track alongside Army Staff Sgt. Christian Bagge, who ran with his new prosthetic running legs.
The president and Bagge, who sported his PT uniform with "Army" emblazoned across his chest, hit the track in a light afternoon drizzle.
In doing so, Bush kept a promise he made to Bagge at his bedside while visiting him and other wounded troops undergoing treatment at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio on New Year's Day.
Bagge was serving with the Oregon National Guard's 116th Brigade Combat Team when he lost both legs near Kirkuk, Iraq, in June 2005.
Bush told reporters yesterday he was inspired and a bit surprised by Bagge's request. "He said, 'I want to run with you,'" the president told reporters on the White House South Lawn. "I looked at him ... (and thought), 'There's an optimistic person.' But I could tell in his eyes that he meant it."
Bush immediately agreed to the request, and Bagge told American Forces Press Service today it helped him set a goal for his recovery. "There's no bigger thing to aspire to than to run with the president," he said. "In the military, you can't get any higher than that."
The president said yesterday that he was impressed with Bagge's progress. "It's an amazing sight for me to be running with a guy who, the last time I saw him ... I was wondering whether or not he'd ever get out of bed," he said. "But there was no doubt in his mind that he would."
The pair disagreed on who's the better runner between them.
"After a lot of hard work and a lot of compassionate care, this fine man is here on the South Lawn running with the president," Bush said. "And he ran the president into the ground, I might add!"
Bagge said today it was he, not the president, who was sucking more air yesterday. "He's in great shape," Bagge said of Bush today on CNN. "I was sweating pretty good, but he wasn't hurting at all."
The soldier declined to say during his CNN interview exactly what he and the president talked about during yesterday's run, calling it, "just chit-chatting."
"We talked about what I've been through and where I want to go," he said. "No big issues."
Bush praised Bagge yesterday for his commitment to his country and his recovery. "I'm proud of you. I'm proud of your strength, proud of your character," he said. "Thank you for your service."
At that point, Bush excused himself and Bagge from the reporters who surrounded them. "We're not through running yet," the president said. Then he jokingly added, "Get out of the way!"
Bagge called his run with the president "extremely motivating" and said he hopes it inspires other wounded troops and reminds the American public about the sacrifices being made for them.
The American people hear about troops killed in the war on terror "but never hear about the wounded," Bagge said today on CNN. "(Wounded troops') lives are forever changed," he said. "It really is a lifelong struggle."
Bagge said he hopes yesterday's run sends a message to other wounded troops. "I see a lot of guys who are depressed," he told American Forces Press Service. "Hopefully they can look at me and say, 'If he did it, I can do it as well.'"
He called his White House visit "a great opportunity to be an inspiration to them and to remind the American people about the cost of freedom."
Bagge isn't the first wounded troop Bush has joined on the White House running track. He ran with U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Michael McNaughton, a Louisiana National Guardsman, in April 2004.