It is not every day a President of the United States invites you to a golf outing, paints a picture of you on the links and publishes a picture of that painting in his new book with a story about you.
That is exactly what happened Feb. 27 of this year to Staff Sergeant (Ret.) Robert “Bobby” Dove, U.S. Army, when President George W. Bush’s best-selling new book titled Portraits of Courage: A Commander in Chief’s Tribute to America’s Warriors was released. Highlighting the work of the Bush Institute’s Military Service Initiative, the book features 66 oil paint portraits and stories of American servicemen and women, who are honored for their sacrifice and courage.
“It’s still very surreal to me that I was chosen to be in that book,” explains Dove, a native of Gloucester, Va. “He did a painting of me hitting a golf ball with (U.S. Army veteran) John Faulkenberry walking up behind me, and it’s four feet by three feet. The painting was created off a picture taken of me at the first Bush Center Warrior Open golf tournament in 2013 when I got to play with Lee Trevino.
“All I knew was that I was selected to be in the book,” adds Dove. “I didn’t know what extent I was in it until the book was actually released. I didn’t know what picture or what it looked like or what part of my story would be in the book.”
Dove’s story, plain and simple, is an important lesson in positivity.
Serving nearly six years in the Army, Dove was inspired to enlist by his grandfather, Willard “Skip” Tompkins, who was a rifleman in the Army infantry during the Korean War. He credits his grandfather as being the most influential person in his life, teaching him about good character, respect for authority, and the responsibility of defending America’s freedom.
Dove joined the Army in Aug. 2008, enlisting as a Special Forces recruit and completing three years of continuous training, first at Fort Benning, Ga., and then at Fort Bragg, N.C. He earned his Green Beret in Aug. 2011 and was assigned to 7th Special Forces Group at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.
In Jan. 2012, Dove was promoted to staff sergeant and deployed to Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. On June 9 of that year he was injured in an improvised explosive device (IED) blast, suffering several life-threatening injuries and ultimately losing his right leg above the knee and his right hand below the elbow.
“I was returning with my team from a mission to our base and was driving a dirt bike, maneuvering positions to the front,” recalls Dove. “We had a convoy and I was actually in the back, but I was going around to go up to the next high ground ahead. As I was going around, and I was off-road at the time, I went over a pressure plate IED and it blew the front end off.”
After being stabilized by his teammates and transported by medevac to Kandahar, Dove soon arrived at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. He endured numerous surgeries and completed seven months of rehabilitation before returning to active duty and serving with his team on a non-combat deployment 13 months after he was injured.
“I was on a great team and we all had the mentality that we can do anything,” Dove says with pride. “Even when I was injured I maintained that mentality. When the time came to start doing rehab, rather than just doing it to get back to whatever life I had left, I was doing it to get back to an actual purpose, a job, the same job that I loved so much. I think that was a huge fuel to the fire to keep me motivated.”
Dove medically retired from the Army in July of 2014 and now owns and operates “Hooligan Charters,” a near-shore fishing charter service out of Destin, Fla., named for a group of men that will always be close to his heart.
“Hooligan was the name of the Special Forces team I was on,” says Dove. “I take people and their families and friends fishing. We catch a few different types of fish in the area here around Destin, Florida, like red snapper and kingfish, in the state water which is up to nine miles offshore. I run the business by myself and provide everything; they just show up and come with me to catch some fish. I just love being out there with them.”
His successful charter fishing business and fishing skills haven’t gone unnoticed by the electronic media either. Recently Dove has appeared in a segment on Sportsman Channel’s Outdoor Troubadours and a full episode on FOX Sports Network’s Addictive Fishing with Captain Blair Wiggins, a U.S. Air Force veteran.
He credits his love of the outdoors as a motivating force in overcoming the obstacles presented to him since suffering his combat injuries. His ability to enjoy fishing, as well as hunting, archery, bike riding, golf and other outdoor pursuits are thanks in large part to advances in prosthetic technology.
Dove is a proud member of The Bush Institute’s Team 43 Sports Military Service Initiative, which features an annual golf tournament and mountain bike ride for wounded service members. Team 43 continues to have a positive influence in his life, giving him access to numerous resources to continue his recovery, providing once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, and introducing him to a supportive network of individuals.
In addition to Team 43, Dove serves on the board of directors for the nonprofit Special Operations Wounded Warriors of Myrtle Beach, S.C., providing outdoor experiences to a select group of both active duty and veteran U.S. Military Special Operations Forces who have experienced combat or training wounds, PTSD or TBI, and have been recognized with our country’s prestigious Purple Heart Medal.
If that’s not enough, he also volunteers his time to give back to his fellow comrades with Boot Campaign (www.bootcampaign.org). He was introduced to the Texas-based military non-profit through U.S. Marine (Ret.) Mark Llano, a member of the organization’s board of directors. Llano is the owner and driver of SERKET Racing, a Porsche GT3 Cup team dedicated to bettering the lives of his fellow veterans, and he met Dove on a thrill-ride around the racetrack where Dove says “I had an absolutely crazy good time.”
Dove now serves as a as a Veteran Ambassador for Boot Campaign, a cause he supports because “from what I’ve seen, I really like the enormous amount of awareness they spread about treating traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress with their ReBOOT program. They’ve had a ton of success with what they’re doing in that realm, and that’s something that’s of the utmost importance that we have to do for servicemembers.”
“I came across Bobby Dove when we did a high-speed race day at the track, taking veterans for two or three laps to give them an experience,” remembers Llano. “I talked with him for a while and it was his attitude on life, his love for his family and his passion for the military that really stuck with me. It was remarkable for me to see what a positive role model he could be for other veterans as a double amputee.
“I recommended Bobby to Boot Campaign,” he adds, “because I saw not just his leadership skills but it was the way he carried himself and the way he had such a positive outlook on life; nothing can stop him. He’s the type of warrior that, if I went back to war today, I’d want Bobby Dove in my foxhole next to me.”
While he now enjoys the outdoors and working with nonprofits, he recognizes the biggest impact on his positive outlook these days has been his wife, Emmy. She was by his side before they were married when he was injured in Afghanistan and rushed to Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
“She’s been there with me from the beginning, from when I was first in the ICU in Bethesda,” he recalls. “Having someone with you that cares as much as Emmy makes a huge difference.”
Almost 17 months after the accident, Bobby and Emmy were married in October 2013. Since then, they are now the proud parents of a two-and-a-half-year-old son, Wyatt, and infant daughter Eva, two prized members of the Dove family that Bobby wasn’t sure would ever be possible.
“When I was first injured I had some lower body injuries, and when I was in the ICU I was told they weren’t sure if would be able to have kids yet or not,” admits Dove. “I had a niece and nephew through my sister and I’ve always loved kids, but that was probably the most difficult news that I received during the whole recovery period.
“I was told that we could do different tests and everything but I didn’t want to do it,” he adds. “I didn’t want to know the answer at that time and never did any tests. So, after I was married, obviously, I found out I could have kids after all, and I’m so eternally blessed and thankful to have them.”
That miracle now allows the Doves to enjoy holidays like the Fourth of July as a family, just as he had experienced when he was younger.
“I remember the Fourth of July was always a bigger deal for my siblings and I more than any other time of the year, because we knew that all the family was getting together and it was always a lot of fun,” concludes Dove. “When I got a little bit older, I honestly came to know what the holiday really represented, not only in terms of our own independence but what freedom can really mean, why people would do so much to gain it, and the true price that goes into maintaining it so we may continue our lives as uninterrupted as possible.”
Learn more about Boot Campaign at www.BootCampaign.org!
By Barry Smith