Bush was the last president to serve in combat. America could use more leaders like him.

His was a life-long sense of wonder at the miracle of his survival, and an attendant relish for life itself compounded by an abiding interest in the world and the people around him. This served him well not only in the White House, but also in his lengthy career of service leading up to it — in the House of Representatives, and as U.N. Ambassador, Special Envoy to China, Director of Central Intelligence and, for eight years, Vice President. Everywhere he went, he was above all curious; and as a result, he learned and learned. He was arguably the best-prepared President-elect to ever set foot in the White House. Much of that reflected his experiences in war.

He was also keenly aware of the grave responsibility of sending young men and women into combat, having faced it. He understood both the primal fear that comes with combat operations, and the deep costs it imposes on the families and loved ones left behind. When he faced the biggest decision of his Presidency — the first Gulf War — he knew what he was asking of the troops because he had given it himself.

And when the time came to decide on staying in Iraq or coming home, he chose to leave. In retrospect, that turned out to be a good decision in the eyes of most historians, and certainly the heart of that calculus was a reflection of his time in combat — he didn’t want others to have to spend any more time than necessary. He said, “I can tell you this: If I’m ever in a position to call the shots, I’m not going to rush to send somebody else’s kids into a war.”