Former Fort Bragg Soldier Disability Month guest speaker to share life story
October 1, 2010
FORT BRAGG, N.C. -In the dictionary, 'danger' is defined as possessing an element of risk or uncertainty. In real life, danger is a job description for those who covertly creep into the unknown.
Retired Sgt. 1st Class Dana Bowman, enlisted as an engineer in the Army before heeding the call to Special Forces service. That battle cry took him to the violence-torn country of Panama to engage Manuel Noriega's troops and eventually persuaded him to join the most advanced parachute team in the world - the Golden Knights.
On Feb. 6, 1994, while practicing the elite diamond track maneuver with his jump partner, Sgt. Jose Aguillon, the unthinkable occurred.
"The last words to Jose before exiting the aircraft was 'have a good jump'. I woke up two days later in the hospital, and I found out the worst," said Bowman.
In the skies over Yuma, Ariz., the two Golden Knights had collided at a combined speed of 300 miles per hour, instantly killing Aguillon. In the impact, Aguillon's outstretched arm sheered off Bowman's legs. As an unconscious Bowman fell toward the earth, his parachute miraculously opened ... sparing his life.
While lying in the hospital, Bowman's wife shared more disheartening news. The day of the accident she decided to divorce him. Not only did he lose a friend and colleague along with his legs, but he would face the challenges of this new life alone.
"It was shocking, frightening - what's next'" Bowman asked himself. "Probably one of the biggest changes was reality setting in," he added.
Doctors painted a grim picture of the future - one of physical limitations and separation from the active life he had once led. They advised him not to attend the funeral of his jump partner and Army friend, Aguillon. But something amazing happened in that 'dark night of the soul' - Bowman didn't believe them.
Fitted with prosthetic legs soon after the collision, Bowman became the first double amputee to physically qualify for Army reenlistment and was named ABC World News Tonight's person of the week. Overall, he's logged over 1,000 jumps since that fateful day. He now snow skis, flies commercial aircraft, scuba dives and sky dives into crowd-filled events like the recent Denver Broncos-Seattle Seahawks game. Bowman also remarried and began a Family of his own.
He took a turn of events and shaped a life of new adventure and human connection, and continues to touch lives along the way.
"My motto is: it's not the disability, it's the ability ... I do more things now than I did before I lost my legs," said Bowman. He speaks about the teamwork and integrity that defined his military career and ultimately prepared him to face the physical challenge of losing both legs.
"We all have something awful. We have to give back," said Bowman, who believes that each person can turn his or her experience into a motivational life story. "If you have faith you can do anything. There is a light on the other side of the tunnel," he added.
Bowman will speak at the Disability Employment Month luncheon, Oct. 14, 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., at the Fort Bragg Club. Tickets for the event are $9, and the menu features Mediterranean chicken, steamed white rice, vegetables, bread and butter, sweet tea and cake.
Purchase tickets from the Equal Employment Opportunity Office, 396-5214.