Dana Bowman a longtime Weatherford resident has had a positive attitude before and after the 1994 accident that took his legs. Attitudes are contagious and Bowman shares his with other wounded soldiers from around the nation who spend two weekends a year right here in North Texas making memories that last a lifetime.
The next gathering is this weekend when HALO (a military special forces term that means High Altitude, Low Opening) for Freedom Warrior Foundation honors 25 wounded military members with fun, food, and friendship. It starts with an aerial hog hunt Friday in Hamilton (involving welcoming support from over a hundred individually owned ranches), a golf tournament across from Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth on Saturday, topped off with bow fishing by airboat coordinated by board member Tony Ryan (son of Lantana’s retired USAF Col. Jim Ryan) both evenings at Lake Ray Roberts.
“It’s called the Weekend to Remember,” said Bowman, 51. “That’s what we’re trying do. We’ll continue to build. We’re always looking for people to help out and guide us. I’m glad to bring these warriors to Texas Motor Speedway.”
“We like to pack it in there. We like to give them the time of their life with a busy schedule built around a positive outlook and mindset.”
Honorees are being flown in from Walter Reed National Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.; Fort Lewis, Wash.; Brook Army Medical Center in San Antonio; and Navy Medical Center San Diego. They include recently wounded members of the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines.
Two warriors are paralyzed from the waist down. The rest are double and triple amputees.
“They all have a story and we help them adjust the right way,” Bowman said. “One thing we like to do is bring in corporations, business’s and special guests. We appreciate the support and participation from the supporters who will be there. Fellowship among the warriors, the foundation and participants is key in making our efforts a success, sharing a bond.”
Corporate sponsors (including Able’s Sporting Goods, Brown & Forman, General Electric, Dr. Pepper/Snapple, GE Veterans Network, Autobahn Motor Group, Impact a Hero Foundation, Marriott Hotels, and West Magnolia Plastic Surgery, pick up all event expenses for the wounded soldiers. They also support Hire America’s Heroes by providing jobs.
It’s all part of Bowman’s perpetual message of “It’s Not the Disability, It’s the Ability.” ™Bowman began his military career when he enlisted in the Army in 1981 after graduating from high school in Ohio. Through the years he was stationed at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., Fort Lewis, Wash., Fort Benning, Ga., and Fort Bragg, N.C.
An engineer by trade, he was drawn to the Army’s airborne division, he jumped at the opportunity and has been jumping ever since. His first conflict was the Granada invasion in 1983. He later joined the Green Beret Special Forces unit, putting his knowledge of Spanish to good use while living in South America for 10 years. He also learned scuba diving, which came in handy during search and rescue missions, and worked with insidious devices.
Returning to Fort Bragg with a bronze star for valor during the 1989 conflict in Panama, Bowman joined the Army’s elite Golden Knights parachute team to build up command time needed to continue his military career. The original plan was to lead a team for two years but everything changed at about 10:30 a.m. on Feb. 6, 1994 in mid-air above the Yuma Proving Grounds in Arizona while training for an air show.
On their sixth and final jump of the day, Bowman and partner Jose Aguillon of San Antonio collided while moving at a collective 300 miles per hour. Aguillon extended his arms to try to veer away with no success, his arm severed Bowman’s legs.
“I landed in a hard parking lot with no legs, bleeding. My partner was killed. They medevaced me to Phoenix where I woke up in the hospital two days later to find out my partner was gone and I lost both of my legs.”
Rather than feel sorry, Bowman determinately worked to jump again. Against orders while rehabilitating at Walter Reed National Medical Center, he succeeded five months after the accident by sneaking out to jump at the wedding of one of his Golden Knights comrades’.
“They said there was no way that I was going to be able to walk or jump,” he said. “There were all sorts of things. There was a lot of negativity and little inspiration. They were giving me no hope at the time, but I had other plans.”
“The jump I made when I snuck out of the hospital changed the mindset of the Pentagon. Believe it or not, the sergeant major of the Army at the time was Richard Kidd, also Special Forces who had heard about me. He came down and we met.
“He asked me ‘what can we do for you Dana?’ I said ‘I want to re-enlist. He said ‘I don’t have the ability to make that call but I’ll run it up the line and see what we can do’ and believe it or not, nine months after my tragedy, I became the first double amputee to re-enlist.”
That was Oct. 2, 1994 and Bowman returned to Fort Bragg where he performed a re-enlistment jump into the ceremony.
“It was special,” said Bowman, who the next year was named Veteran of the Year. “It was headline news. (ABC-TV’s) Peter Jennings featured it. It was huge. From People Magazine to Reader’s Digest they called it the return of a Golden Knight. It was just awesome.”
He served as the Golden Knights lead speaker and recruiting commander before retiring in 1996. His last Golden Knights jump was at the opening ceremonies of the Paralympic Games in Atlanta.
Bowman’s next goal was to receive a college degree, which he did in commercial aviation with a rotary craft emphasis at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks. He’s since become the only double amputee commercial helicopter instructor pilot, a commercial hot air balloon pilot , and a member of the Texas National Guard.
Soon after earning his degree in 2000, he remarried and he and his wife have twin daughters and a son. They moved to Texas where he completed his helicopter training at Bell Helicopter.
After proving what a double amputee could do, the experience spurred Bowman to take his message of hope, determination and overcoming adversity to other wounded warriors. One way was to become a motivational speaker. Since 1995, he’s made 100’s of presentations annually in every state in the country plus Australia, Italy, Romania, Panama, Mexico, and some Caribbean islands.
His normal routine is to parachute into his locations, often flying in the American flag, then mingle with attendees and sign autographs. At the event’s main meal function, he tailors a speech on what he’s experienced.
That’s a far cry from when Bowman was asked to make the first speeches of his life shortly after returning to duty. The first was on his birthday July 14, 1995 to a Rotary Club in Fayetteville, N.C., the next to troubled youths at Camden Military School in South Carolina.
“Since then I’ve become a self-made speaker. Nobody taught me how to be a speaker. I videotaped myself and had other people videotape me during my interviews. I asked for critiques. I’m the only member of the National Speakers Association that can parachute into a corporation or elementary school to deliver a keynote.” He appeals to a diverse crowd, the old, the new, physically challenged and all walks of life. He says, “Each and every one of us has a disability, the things you think you can’t do.”
Looking for another way to help his fellow wounded brethren, he held his first Weekend to Remember event in 2007, which has led up to now, the 2013 event expected to be the biggest yet.
Among those attending last was Medal of Honor recipient Leroy Petry who is the first MOH recipient for the United States Army Rangers, received for actions in 2008 during Operation Enduring Freedom. Petry is still on active duty as sergeant first class Army Special Operations liaison at Fort Lewis. The United States Armed Forces’ highest combat decoration is the Medal of Honor.
“The Weekend to remember is a great time,” said Petry, who suffered gunshot wounds to both thighs and had his right hand amputated after his 2008 incident in Afghanistan. “You get to meet a lot of nice people not only the wounded service people but those who support them.”
Petry attends several similar events each year but especially likes coming to Texas for this one. “These events do a lot of tremendous things for these guys,” Petry said. “When I was going through my recovery, events like these really helped me.
“Texas always has been a favorite of mine. This group always has been one of the main supporters of our guys.”
In March, the foundation held a NASCAR experience at the Texas Motor Speedway where 33 warriors skydived in, drove the racecars, took part in a gun shoot with Jeff Kyle (brother of the late Navy Seal Chris Kyle known as the most lethal sniper in U.S. military history) before ending the evening with a gala. It was a great success as the one this weekend is expected to be.
The golf event Saturday at The Golf Club at Champions Circle features breakfast at 7 a.m., a shotgun start at 8 a.m., a 12:30 p.m. awards lunch and auction including photos with MOH Leroy Petry before an evening of Bow fishing. Team golf entries are $500 for three of your friends and a warrior.
Among the celebrities planning to attend this weekend’s events are country and western singer Aaron Tippin, Congressman Roger Williams of Weatherford, Texas State Representative Phil King, members of the Texas State National Guard, Jeff Kyle, brother of the late Navy SEAL Chris Kyle and former Marine Lt. Clebe McClary (Evangelist, speaker and veteran of the Vietnam War who lost an arm and an eye in combat).
For more information, visit HaloforFreedom.org or contact Bowman at 817-597-1826.