Golden Knight Honored for Dedication to Wounded Warrior Community

Golden Knight Honored for Dedication to Wounded Warrior Community
(Photo Courtesy of Dana Bowman)

[Note from MOAA: Retired Army Sgt. 1st Class Dana Bowman, founder of the HALO for Freedom Warrior Foundation, is a recipient of MOAA's Distinguished Service Award, honoring organizations that support servicemembers and the wider military community. Read about all our 2019 award winners here.]

By Kristin Davis

When Dana Bowman woke up in a hospital bed without legs, doctors told him he would no longer do all the things he loved: Climb mountains. Explore the ocean depths. Jump out of airplanes. Serve his country.

If only someone had been there to tell him all he could do.

Bowman, a member of the Army's elite parachute team the Golden Knights, was performing a routine skydiving maneuver when he collided with his partner, Sgt. Jose Aguillon, midair on Feb. 6, 1994. Aguillon died instantly. Bowman lost both his legs.

“I wanted someone to come up to me and give me some motivation, not tell me it's going to be horrible for the rest of your life,” he says.

Bowman learned to motivate himself, coming up with a motto he still lives by: “It's not the disability. It's the ability.”

Nine months after the accident, Bowman became the first double amputee to re-enlist in the Army, skydiving with his commander into the ceremony. He made it his life's mission to support other wounded warriors during their rehabilitation, reintegration, and healing.

For that work, MOAA has named Bowman a 2019 Distinguished Service Award recipient.

Since 1994, Bowman has given hundreds of speeches, providing motivation, leadership training, and team building to servicemembers across the nation. He has raised public awareness about the challenges faced by America's military.

In 2007, he founded the HALO for Freedom Warrior Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to ensuring no soldier, veteran, or warrior is ever left behind.

The organization began humbly enough, when Bowman flew 10 wounded warriors from around the country to Texas for a weekend of food, fellowship, hunting, and storytelling. The event was so successful he did it again the next year, and then the next - each time adding sponsors and participants to the list.

Those who came had endured tragedy, disease, and accidents, Bowman says. Some were amputees. Some suffered from post-traumatic stress. “You don't have to have a Purple Heart,” he says. “You can be a general or a private.”

Today, the HALO for Freedom Warrior Foundation hosts an annual, four-day morale-building event that includes parachuting into the Texas Motor Speedway, a NASCAR experience, hog hunting from helicopters, and nights out. Called Weekend to Remember, as many as 50 veterans participate in events aimed at overcoming their disabilities - and finding their abilities.

“One day, any of us might be in a wheelchair,” Bowman says. “We should all be given a chance.”

Related reading: MOAA's 2019 Award Winners.

Arthur T. Marix Congressional Leadership Award

U.S. Rep. Phil Roe

Sen. Jon Tester

Distinguished Service Award

Retired Army Sgt. 1st Class Dana Bowman


Colonel Paul W. Arcari Meritorious Service Award

Former Staff Sgt. Ray Kelley

Tony McClain

Retired Lt. Col. Dan Sennott