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Bi-lat re-enlists in army

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Double amputee skydives into VA Medical Center

Friday, December 02, 2005

By JAMES BROOKS

NET News Service

Dana Bowman gives a thumbs up to the crowd after parachuting onto the VA Medical Center grounds near the gazebo. Ron Campbell photo.

MOUNTAIN HOME - The flag at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center Hospital was standing straight out on the pole and swinging back and forth in a 45-degree arc as a Cessna approached low from the direction of Tri-Cities Regional Airport.

The breezes seemed to abate as Dana Bowman threw out a pair of streamers in the gold and black colors of the Army's Golden Knights parachute team. They unfurled as they floated to earth behind a line of trees.

The plane went into a steep, spiraling climb and went from about 500 to 5,000 feet. On the ground a bright red square marked the target surrounded by a crowd of mostly men. Many of them wore the black caps with names of ships, divisions or squadrons favored by veterans. One of them called out his estimation of the altitude.

"He'll jump this time around," said another wearing the insignia of the 101st Airborne.

The plane leveled out, and seconds later those on the ground heard the engine throttle back.

"Here he comes," several said as a black dot disengaged from the plane. "He's free-falling."

Bowman did not free-fall for long. The air temperature was 23 degrees Fahrenheit as he left the plane, and the wind chill at 120 mph was probably below zero. The chute canopy with a large American flag suspended beneath it was also in Golden Knights colors with the name "Hanger" on it. Hanger Prosthetics makes the custom-designed artificial limbs Bowman uses since losing both his legs in a midair collision in 1994 that killed his jump partner.

He seemed to hang in the air, using the control cables on his canopy, as he sized up the landing area, surrounded by trees.

"They've got a lot more control of them nowadays than we had," one of the veterans said, exchanging grins with several around him.

As he passed overhead, the above-the-knees $40,000 computer-controlled prosthesis that replaced his right leg clearly visible with its American flag design, Bowman set up for a landing into the wind, but came up about 30 feet short, hit the ground and slid onto his backside.

He immediately was back on his feet as Dan Kite of the VA staff helped re-stuff his chute and the spectators applauded.

"You looked great from up there, but you look even better from down here," Bowman told the group.

Bowman said he would speak in the afternoon to a group of war amputees at the VA.

"They're doing great, and the VA is definitely taking care of them," Bowman said.

The first double amputee to re-enlist in the Army, Bowman said his desire to participate rather than be a spectator has reopened the door for soldiers who want that option, including two amputees currently back in Iraq on active duty. Bowman said his message was the same, whether it was to youth or to wounded veterans: Don't give up.

"I've met men here from the Battle of the Bulge (World War II) on up. It's important for these men to tell their stories. We cannot forget our fallen soldiers."

He said the hardest part of recovering from his accident today is walking through airports in shorts.

"I get looks. The toughest thing is being accepted," he said.

He found that out when he slipped out of Walter Reed Army Hospital and had to talk his buddies on the Golden Knights into letting him jump once again with them while on a weekend pass.

"I snuck out and asked forgiveness later," he said.

Today he has 10 different sets of feet to aid him in different activities.

"All of us have to overcome our disabilities," he said. "We have to adjust to everything. You just can't give up. You fall down; you get back up."

From here...

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