Soldier's last mission proves fatal

The Baltimore Sun

Army Staff Sgt. Collin J. Bowen had finished his last mission in Afghanistan and was scheduled to come home to his wife and daughter in Perry Hall.

But when asked to ride along on a final 10-day mission, Sergeant Bowen, 38, agreed.

"That's the type of person he was," said his brother, Justin Bowen, 36. "My brother was a person who was very dedicated and loyal and without question one of the hardest-working people I've ever known."

On Jan. 2, the final day of that last mission, Sergeant Bowen suffered major injuries from a roadside bomb, including burns over 50 percent of his body. He was returned to the U.S. for treatment at the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas, where his family stayed by his bedside, praying for his recovery.

Yesterday, the Perry Hall resident died of complications from his injuries, and the family prepared to bury him at Arlington National Cemetery.

"He really was a soldier's soldier," said Justin Bowen, an attorney from Indianapolis. "He ... loved the Army and gave it everything he had, literally."

Sergeant Bowen was injured in the Khowst province of Afghanistan in an attack that reportedly killed two other soldiers.

A native of Marion, Ind., and recipient of both the Purple Heart and Bronze Star, Sergeant Bowen earned a degree in computer science at UMBC in 2005, said college spokesman Mike Lurie.

Sergeant Bowen lived in Maryland for most of the past two decades, including in Frederick and Baltimore, as well as Perry Hall, said his brother.

He was stationed at Fort Meade after basic training and fell in love with the area and people, and stayed, the brother said.

Sergeant Bowen met his wife, Ursula, at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County when he was enrolled in a Spanish class she taught. They married five years ago and had one daughter, Gabriela, who is 3.

He also had two daughters from a previous marriage - Erin, 13, and Katelyn, 10, who live in Westminster.

Mrs. Bowen said her husband learned to take care of others as an infantryman but maintained the same selfless manner outside the military. "What people always said about him is how much he cared for people," she said. "He was a true friend."

Sergeant Bowen's commitment to military service came naturally, his brother said. Their father, Michael Bowen, served in the Army in the 1970s, and Justin Bowen served three years. Sergeant Bowen was the eldest of three brothers. Shelby Bowen, 34, also lives in Indianapolis.

Their uncle, Dean Neal of Marion, Ind., said that enlisting was Sergeant Bowen's lifelong ambition: He joined the Army at 18 and served in Korea, Japan and other locations.

UMBC President Freeman A. Hrabowski III sent an announcement to the university community yesterday, expressing sadness. At Sergeant Bowen's graduation, Hrabowski recognized the soldier for his service to his country, Justin Bowen said. He said his brother was determined to earn his college degree, despite being called back for military service three times while taking classes.

"[Dr. Hrabowski] asked my brother to stand up and recognized him for being a person who served his country admirably and continued to return [to college] after he was activated each time. He stuck with it," Justin Bowen said. "He asked him to stand up in front of the entire student body and ... told my brother's story. That was a very proud moment for us."

The Bowen family also has been telling the sergeant's story on a Web site that has garnered attention from well-wishers across the country.

An aunt created a page about Sergeant Bowen on caringbridge.org.

On the site, thousands of people nationwide posted comments hoping for Bowen's recovery, and offering condolences yesterday after learning that he had died.

Justin Bowen said the messages had helped the family - and Sergeant Bowen.

"We would occasionally print the messages that people would write and take them in to Collin and read them to him," said Justin Bowen. "He was definitely in there, and he heard those messages. We know that we heard them."

liz.kay@baltsun.com tanika.white@baltsun.com

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