Former Army reservist Joe Bowser gets a second chance at life
The Frederick News-Post, Md.
FREDERICK, Md. — Joe Bowser's second chance at life came the day he was blown up by a rocket in Iraq.
The day was April 12, 2004.
The Army reservist was only a few months into his first tour in Iraq. He had just returned to Camp Anaconda after hauling fuel with the 283rd Transportation Company, out of Fairfield, Conn.
Bowser, 53, of Brunswick, was headed to meet his buddies for dinner when a rocket ripped into the camp. It exploded somewhere behind him. Shrapnel tore through an artery in his right leg and cut his hand. Another round came in and exploded somewhere else. Two women threw themselves on top of Bowser, who lay bleeding in the sand, to shield him.
“I've always wanted to meet those girls, shake their hands, say thank you,” Bowser said.
Less than two weeks after he landed at Walter Reed, Bowser allowed the Army surgeons to amputate his right leg below the knee. It was a loss that opened many doors.
First, it gave him a second chance to play hockey, a sport he loves. Bowser plays with the U.S. National Amputee Hockey Team and is a right wing with the USA Warriors Ice Hockey Program. His favorite team is the Detroit Red Wings.
“The first thing I thought was I wanted to play hockey again,” Bowser said.
Bowser spent more than two years recovering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and medically retired from the reserves in 2006. Since 2007, he has worked as a staff assistant to the secretary of the Army, where he advocates for issues on behalf of wounded veterans. He travels frequently to military hospitals, including Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, to visit with wounded troops. He helped arrange for the Chicago Blackhawks to visit Walter Reed when they visited the White House after the team's Stanley Cup win.
“I still feel like an NCO getting to take care of soldiers, you know? That's what it's all about,” Bowser said.
Alex Santiago is Bowser's supervisor at the Pentagon. He remembered one time in which Bowser helped a wounded soldier at Walter Reed who was struggling to arrange travel to visit family.
"Joe called somebody," Santiago said. "Within the next hour or two the person had airline tickets."
He said Bowser helps take "the bureaucracy out of the system."
"Where he sees delays, Joe will talk to the right people and smooth things over and make them happen," Santiago said.
Bowser joined the Army in 1980, not long after high school. Military service was something he'd been interested since he was a child in Toldeo, Ohio. He served until 1983 and then settled in Kentucky, where he worked as a mail carrier for 18 years. Bowser also spent two stints with the Army Reserve. He signed up the first time around for the extra money, serving until 1996. The terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, inspired him to join again.
Bowser returned to Iraq as part of a Stars for Stripes trip in 2009. This time, he walked out, but not after the organization surprised him by lining up a visit with his son, Jeremy, who was in Kuwait waiting to head in to Iraq.
“It was so hard leaving him, though,” Bowser said. “I was crying like a baby, didn't want to let him go.”