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Army Vet, Hockey Player Puts Iraq War Injuries ‘On Ice’

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 16, 2008 – Retired Army reservist Joseph L. Bowser was 9 years old when he first experienced the thrill of skating and using his hockey stick to whack a rubber puck across the ice on a frozen pond in his birthplace of Toledo, Ohio.

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Retired Army Sgt. 1st Class Joseph L. Bowser plays competitive ice hockey despite the loss of his lower right leg due to an injury suffered from an exploding enemy rocket April 12, 2004, in Balad, Iraq. Courtesy photo
  

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Today, the 48-year-old Iraq veteran still plays ice hockey, despite the loss of the lower portion of his right leg four years ago during a rocket attack on Camp Anaconda, in Balad, Iraq.

Bowser, then a truck driver with 283rd Transportation Company based in Fairfield, Conn., recalled that the enemy attack occurred on April 12, 2004, soon after he returned to Camp Anaconda after delivering a 5,000-gallon load of jet fuel.

Bowser credits Connecticut Army National Guard Maj. Michael McMahon, a physician assistant, for saving his life. McMahon, he said, used his fingers to slow the bleeding from a gashed artery on Bowser’s injured right leg.

“He reached up on my leg to clamp off my artery so I wouldn’t ‘bleed out,’” Bowser recalled.

McMahon, now 45, recalled during a recent phone interview from his home in Hamden, Conn., that his military training kicked in when he saw the stricken Bowser bleeding profusely.

“You just react,” McMahon said. “We took care of him and got him stabilized. There was a combat surgical hospital in Balad.

“Once we got the bleeding controlled, … I thought he was going to make it,” McMahon recalled. Bowser and McMahon keep in touch; they met up in February when Bowser was in Connecticut to play a hockey game.

Wearing body armor probably also saved his life, Bowser said, noting his armored vest was riddled with shrapnel damage. The then-staff sergeant also suffered shrapnel injuries to his left hand.

Bowser said he arrived at Walter Reed Army Medical Center here about a week after being wounded. The doctors thought he would have more mobility with a prosthetic leg, he recalled, rather than by keeping his mangled limb.

“The first thing that I thought of was that I wanted to play hockey again,” Bowser said. “So, I said I wanted to have it amputated.”

Bowser spent more than two years of inpatient and outpatient recovery at Walter Reed, and he was medically retired from the Army as a sergeant first class in July 2006. He rates the medical care he received at Walter Reed as “awesome.”

“You couldn’t ask for a better place,” Bowser said of Walter Reed.

Bowser now works at the Pentagon as an administrator for Army Secretary Pete Geren. In his spare time he plays pickup hockey games at Maryland rinks near his present-day home near Baltimore. He also occasionally travels to play in hockey tournaments.

Bowser plays right wing, one of the three forwards on an ice hockey team. The center and left winger make up the other two-thirds of the forward line, and their job is to harass the opposing team and score goals. Two defensive players are positioned rearward to protect the goalie.

Bowser said his artificial leg can be adjusted to accommodate his skating style, and that having a prosthetic limb actually has its advantages during a rough-and-tumble game of hockey.

“You don’t have to worry about getting a puck slapped on your foot,” Bowser said, noting he enjoys ice hockey’s speed of play and physical aspects.

Bowser completed as a member of the U.S. National Amputee Hockey Team during the 2008 Standing Amputee Hockey World Championships that were held April 2-6 in Marlborough, Mass. Team USA won the silver medal at that four-team tournament, beating out teams from Latvia and Finland. Canada won the gold medal, and Finland took the bronze.

Before he got his job in the secretary of the Army’s office, Bowser had volunteered to work with injured military veterans as part of an initiative administered through Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon R. England’s office.

Bowser met with a number of Washington Capitals professional ice hockey team players and coaches when they paid an April 6 visit to the Pentagon last year. Later, he got to skate with some Capitals players during a team practice.

The Capitals hockey club has sponsored several Military Appreciation Nights at the Verizon Center here for servicemembers and their families, Bowser noted.

“I’ve gone there several times with wounded warrior guys from Walter Reed,” Bowser said. “They’ve just opened their doors to us. They totally support us.”

Bowser, who got married April 12, said God gave him a second chance at life after being severely wounded in Iraq. Grateful for each day of existence, he strives to help his fellow wounded warriors.

“I treat each day like my last … (while) helping my fellow soldiers,” Bowser said.

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageInjured Army veteran Joseph L. Bowser, left, and physician assistant Michael McMahon meet up at an ice hockey tournament in Connecticut in February. McMahon was the military medical person who first treated Bowser after he was wounded by an exploding enemy rocket in Balad, Iraq, on April 12, 2004. Courtesy photo  
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