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Retired Fort Bragg soldier honored in President Bush's 'Portraits of Courage'

Posted March 1
Updated March 2

— For a retired soldier from Fort Bragg, it was his life's work to go into the world's most dangerous places and fight to keep America safe.

Sgt. First Class Michael Rodriguez, a Green Beret, is one of many heroes who was turned into a work of art by former President George W. Bush. Bush recently released "Portraits of Courage: A Commander in Chief's Tribute to America's Warriors," which features oil paintings of 66 military veterans.

Rodriguez remembers the very day he was injured while serving in Afghanistan in 2006.

"I was exposed to an IED in close proximity," he said. "I lost vision in my left eye."

But he hid his injury.

"I chose to stay to continue the mission, and that's kind of what happened," Rodriguez said. "I kind of hid it. I hid it so well it took four years for everything to surface."

The brain injuries, the post-traumatic stress - he ended up having to go Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Maryland for treatment.

In 2013, Rodriguez medically retired. He said it was the hardest thing he had ever had to accept.

"I still ended up serving 21 years," he said.

A year into retirement, he received an invitation to Bush's ranch in Texas for three days of mountain biking with other wounded warriors.

"I think he's the only person I've ever met in my life where I was star struck," Rodriguez said.

The president was struck himself by the father of three who met his wife, an Army medic, while serving in Afghanistan. He was so inspired by his story that he chose to include a portrait of Rodriguez in his book.

"When I found out about it, I'm still processing it," Rodriguez said. "I'm still trying to figure it out. I'm honored, I'm humbled.

"But I really hope that the message comes across that those who were selected to paint are just a small representation of the veteran community."

On Monday's episode of the “Today Show,” Rodriguez appeared with three other wounded warriors alongside the president.

"I am most proud of the friendship Rod and I have forged," Bush writes in the book.

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