Double Amputee Skydiver Dropping In On Roundup
Dana Bowman makes presentation to local schools
FROM BLACK HILLS PIONEER By: Lacey Peterson May 12, 2017
BELLE FOURCHE — It’s not every day that inspiration falls from the sky, but Thursday was different for 420 Belle Fourche High School students who heard a story of tragedy and triumph from Dana Bowman, a retired soldier from Texas, who chronicled his journey from a mid-air accident to becoming the first double-amputee to reenlist in the military.
Bowman will be skydiving into the Black Hills Roundup arena to kick off the annual rodeo shows on the evenings of July 2-4 and flew up to Belle Fourche in advance to take time to inspire area children.
Bowman is a retired Sgt. 1st Class with the Army and a Special Forces soldier who grew up in North Ridgeville, Ohio, where he graduated high school in 1981. He joined the Army at 18 seeking a sense of wellbeing, direction, and an opportunity to see the world — and that’s what he got.
Bowman said his career path in the military began with heavy equipment operation. As he climbed the ranks within the military, he joined the Special Forces.
“This has really given me the opportunity to travel around the United States and the world,” he said.
In 1993, Bowman joined the Golden Knights — the Army’s elite parachute team based out of Fort Bragg, N.C.
“They (the Golden Knights team) consist of 84 men and women – worldwide accuracy, ambassadors, spokesmen and spokeswomen — representing your United States military,” he said.
In 1994, while Bowman and the team were conducting their annual training at Yuma Proving Grounds, Ariz., tragedy struck.
Bowman and his teammate Sgt. Jose Aguillon, of San Antonio, Texas, were practicing a maneuver known as the diamond track. The maneuver calls for the jumpers to streak away from each other for about a mile and then turn 180-degrees and fly back toward one another, crisscrossing in the sky. The pair had demonstrated the maneuver more than 50 times without incident, but this time was different.
Rather than crisscrossing, the two skydivers slammed into each other at a combined speed of 350 mph.
“On the pass, my partner’s outstruck arm had caught both my legs,” Bowman said. “I had both legs sheared off in mid-air — one above the knee, one below the knee.”
Bowman was taken to a hospital where doctors closed his leg wounds and stopped his internal bleeding.
Two days later, Bowman said he awoke in an Arizona hospital and learned that his teammate and friend had perished in the accident.
“Nothing would prepare me for a tragedy or accident like this,” he said.
Seven days later, Bowman attended his teammate’s funeral.
“To pay tribute to my teammate, my mentor, my friend,” he said. “One last final salute to my teammate.”
Life goes on, Bowman said, and the skydiver described the feelings he experienced while watching his teammates continue their duties while all he could do was watch from the sidelines.
“That wasn’t what I wanted,” he said. “I wanted to be able to come back — I wanted to get back.”
It was this moment, he said, that propelled him forward.
“Obviously, greatness was shaped on that tragic day, and believe it or not, it helped me to be able to bounce back — testing out the different prosthetic limbs on my way up,” Bowman said. “I had another goal — a dream.”
He explained his first steps out of the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Washington, D.C.
“I did something that was unspeakable to my teammates and military officials,” he said.
Bowman sneaked out of the hospital, returned to Fort Bragg, N.C., and participated in a “wedding jump” of a former Golden Knight.
“With this video demonstration, I showed the military and the Pentagon that there was still a place for us (those who are disabled in the military),” Bowman said.
Nine months after the tragedy, triumph arose when he became the first double-amputee to reenlist in the Army and skydived with his commander into the reenlistment ceremony — making his dream a reality.
“They gave me a chance, and today, I’m giving each and every one of you out there a chance,” he said. “Reach for the stars, grasp what’s out there, ask, and you’ll be given.”
After his re-enlistment, Bowman became the parachute team’s lead speaker and recruiting commander. He said he has been fortunate to have the opportunity to let his speeches touch so many from the physically challenged to the able-bodied as he strives to show that physically challenged people can still work and excel in today’s society and military. Bowman, who has logged more than 4,000 jumps since his accident, emphasized that the words “amputee” and “uselessness” are not synonymous.
Bowman retired from the Army in 1996 and received his bachelor of science degree in commercial aviation at the University of North Dakota in 2000.
Bowman said his determination in the Army, and now the civilian world, has earned him worldwide recognition as a motivational speaker and skydive demonstrator. Bowman spreads his message, “It’s not the disability, it’s the ability,” to audiences around the world.
Last month, Bowman said he traveled to 18 states, speaking and skydiving.
He has been the subject of more than 250 national and international press appearances and TV shows, including a recently filmed Nike commercial he shared with the students.
“With my family, friends, and modern technology, I stand tall and proud, and I dedicate this re-enlistment jump to each and every one of you in here today to come down in life on target with you,” he said.
Bowman told the students that considerable groundwork goes into their educational careers, including many people working behind the scenes to ensure they thrive.
“Your administrators, your teachers, your counselors, your family members, and your friends; it takes a lot of people, so it’s so important to do the right thing,” he said. “So you have to help us so that you can land on that target like we’ve landed on target for you. We need to take a stand and show people that we can accomplish anything.”
Following Thursday’s presentation, Bowman signed autographs for a few dozen high schoolers who were particularly inspired by his presentation. He also presented at the Belle Fourche Middle School and two Newell schools Thursday.