FORT WORTH, Texas – Andrew Bachelder knows he’s one of the lucky ones. Nearly six years after a helicopter collision in Afghanistan — in which he broke his hip, shoulder, shinbone, foot, ribs and more — he’s gearing up to play golf next month with former President George W. Bush.
It is golf that eases his injured body, particularly his aching back. It is golf that calms his racing mind. And it is golf that soothes the 33-year-old Fort Worth man’s soul, which still suffers from survivor’s guilt.
“Golf has been something else,” said Bachelder, who will be making his third appearance in Bush’s Warrior Open golf tournament this year. “You go onto the golf course and it’s quiet.
“It’s just you out there and the golf ball,” he said. “That’s where I find my peace, on the golf course.”
Bachelder and 24 other wounded warriors will play in the tournament hosted by Bush.
He’s honing his skills and hopes to claim the top prize, potentially creating a path for him to play golf professionally someday.
He’s come a long way from the physically and emotionally devastated Marine Corps staff sergeant sent home from Afghanistan nearly six years ago, uncertain about himself, why he survived and his future.
“I think golf saved my life,” he said.
Painful memories of that day
On a recent day, practicing his shots at a driving range, Bachelder — who joined the Marines in 2002 — talked about what happened to him.
He remembers some of the details from the day that changed his life and ended others.
On Oct. 26, 2009, he and a handful of other Marines loaded into two helicopters in Afghanistan, ready to escort two Army helicopters on their way to “pick up some bad guys.”
At 1:26 a.m., just as they were starting out, the helicopters lost sight of each other and collided in midair. Four of the six soldiers on the helicopters died. Bachelder was knocked unconscious and thrown from the helicopter.
He woke up on the ground, next to burning helicopters. Thermal imagery helped rescuers see him and one other person scooting away from the wreckage. “I probably didn’t know what happened until a week or two later,” he said.
Among his injuries: a broken tibia/fibula, hip, shoulder, eight ribs and more. He fractured his pelvis and vertebrae. His lungs collapsed. And he had a traumatic brain injury. “It wasn’t as bad as a lot of guys,” he said. “I was lucky.”
Over the next days, weeks and months, he was taken to hospitals in Germany and Bethesda, Md., before finally being transferred to a facility in San Diego, closer to where he was stationed.
After more than a half-dozen surgeries and months of bed rest, he retired from the Marines.
He; his wife, Debi; and their two children, Kaitlin and Jacob, moved to Texas, where he grew up. They first moved to Weatherford and last month they moved to Fort Worth.
Then the depression hit
When Bachelder first found himself living in Weatherford, not far from where he played football as a wide receiver and free safety in high school more than a decade earlier, things went from bad to worse.
“I really went into a depression stage,” Bachelder said. “I was abusing the medications and tried to commit suicide with the medication in October 2012.
“I think I had a lot of survivor’s guilt and … that’s when life got really bad,” he said. “Luckily, I was able to pull myself out.”
After that, Bachelder’s mother told him about Bush’s Warrior Open, a golf tournament hosted by Bush that is just for U.S. service members severely wounded in the global war on terror.
He didn’t think he would be accepted, but he enjoyed playing golf growing up, so he applied.
He was stunned to hear weeks later that he was accepted. “My life has never been the same since,” he said.
He headed out to the golf course to practice and ended up ranking fourth in 2013.
Last year, he got to compete again and claimed first place in low net and third overall, shooting a 74 and 75 during the two-day tournament. He has a 4 handicap.
“I’m looking to win it this year,” he said. “That’s the plan, to practice hard enough to overthrow the champion right now.”
This year, 25 competitors will play in the two-day, 36-hole competition Sept. 29-30.
To qualify, servicemen and women must have been seriously injured in the war on terror, be active-duty, retired or honorably discharged, have a verifiable golf handicap of 20 or less and play five rounds at one course with another player willing to verify the score.
A special time for family
Bachelder said the tournament is a special time that gives his family a chance to spend some time with Bush. “My kids brought … Jolly Ranchers for the first tournament,” he said. “It turns out that he loves Jolly Ranchers.”
Now they bring them every year.
Bush has said he doesn’t want U.S. troops to think he has forgotten them. “I was a little concerned that our veterans don’t think I still respect them and care for them a lot,” he told media outlets. So he created the tournament to show his appreciation.
Bachelder said the sport has certainly made a difference for him. “I really don’t know where I would be in life today without my wife, kids and golf,” he said. “Golf is healing us.”