Wounded warrior not defined by disability

Col. Jim Jennings, Peterson Air Force Base 21st Space Wing vice commander, (right) thanks retired Army Sgt. 1st Class Dana Bowman for his visit. Mr. Bowman, a double amputee who lost his legs in a 1994 parachute training accident, spoke to Peterson Airmen Nov. 16 as part of National Disability Employment Awareness Month. Peterson aims to become an employer of choice in the disability community through its new outreach and special emphasis program. (Air Force photo by Larry Hulst)

Col. Jim Jennings, Peterson Air Force Base 21st Space Wing vice commander, (right) thanks retired Army Sgt. 1st Class Dana Bowman for his visit. Mr. Bowman, a double amputee who lost his legs in a 1994 parachute training accident, spoke to Peterson Airmen Nov. 16 as part of National Disability Employment Awareness Month. Peterson aims to become an employer of choice in the disability community through its new outreach and special emphasis program. (Air Force photo by Larry Hulst)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Retired Army Sgt. 1st Class Dana Bowman had been around the world with his Special Forces unit. He had been in the thick of invasions in Granada and Panama. He was a jumper, a skier and a diver. So, when he woke up in a hospital bed without his legs after a parachute training mission gone badly, he had to make a decision.

"I was subjected to being in a wheelchair for the rest of my life, or was I?" said Mr. Bowman, who is now retired from the Army and lives with his family in Texas.

Mr. Bowman got out of the bed, learned how to walk on prosthetic legs and never looked back at that wheelchair again. Since his 1994 accident, he has jumped out of airplanes more than 1,000 times.

Mr. Bowman spoke to Peterson Air Force Base Airmen Oct. 16 as part of National Disability Employment Awareness Month. From his perspective, everyone has some sort of disability - some are visible, like his, and some are not.

"My message is for everyone," he said. "We need to give everyone a chance."

Mr. Bowman enlisted in the Army when he was 18-years-old. His nearly 20-year military career in special operations took him all over the world. In 1993, he joined the Army's elite Golden Knight parachute team.

In 1994, the Golden Knights went to Yuma, Ariz. for annual training. Mr. Bowman and his partner Sgt. Jose Aguillon had made the difficult jumping maneuver, known as the Diamond Track, more than 50 times without incident prior to that training day. But, instead of crisscrossing in the air, they slammed into each other at an estimated combined speed of 300 miles an hour. Sgt. Aguillon died on impact and Mr. Bowman's legs were severed from his body.

Nine months later, Mr. Bowman skydived into his re-enlistment ceremony, becoming the first double amputee to re-enlist in the Army. He became the U.S. Parachute Team's lead speaker and recruiting commander. Today, there are 18 active duty amputees serving in all branches of the military, he said.

"Your disabilities are the things you think you can't do," Mr. Bowman said

Mr. Bowman, 47, retired from the Army in 1996. He earned a bachelor's degree in commercial aviation in 2000 and now tours the country giving motivational talks. Mostly, he spends his time with other amputee and physically disabled people, especially military personnel.

"Years ago, my disability would have been shameful instead of a badge of honor," he said.

Since 1945, Congress has recognized the contributions of disabled employees by celebrating October as National Disability Employment Awareness Month. In 2008, Air Force officials set a goal to become the employer of choice in the disability community.

Peterson Air Force Base aims to become a leader in the recruitment of a diverse workforce, said Rex Jones, Peterson's Equal Opportunity Office director. Peterson recently hired a Special Emphasis Program Manager, Wynona James, to recruit a diverse workforce.

"It's important for employers to say that people with disabilities are viable entities within the workforce," Mr. Jones said. "Sometimes we think we have to go out of our way to accommodate people with disabilities, and that is simply not true - people with disabilities are not only viable but a significant resource within the workforce."

Mr. Bowman, who still jumps out of airplanes about 100 times a year, said the Army gave him a chance in its workforce. Now, he is out there asking that employers give people, with disabilities or without, chances to succeed.

"We are depending on you to land on target," Mr. Bowman said.

Viewers can see Mr. Bowman parachute onto the field of the Nov. 9, Monday night football game between the Pittsburg Steelers and the Denver Broncos.