By BEN MEYERSON, Capital News Service
WASHINGTON (March 20, 2008) - An Afghani roadside bomb finally claimed the life of a Maryland National Guard soldier from Nottingham Friday in a Texas military hospital.
Staff Sgt. Collin J. Bowen, 38, had been fighting for his life since Jan. 2, when an improvised explosive device hit his vehicle in Khowst province, killing two other men and a translator. More than two months later, infection and other complications from his serious burns finally overcame him at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas.
Born in Marion, Ind., Bowen was part of a large extended family in a relatively small town. His second cousin, Reggina Mattis of Westfield, Ind., said the two grew up together.
"He was very competitive, very athletic and very determined," she said. "He was always the peacekeeper; he was never in the middle of the ruckus."
That was a task unto itself, given his two younger brothers, who she said were "goofballs" and "mischievous." Even then, she said she knew what his destiny was.
"He took the path we all knew he would, and he was really good at what he did," she said. "He was a problem solver."
Bowen's brother, Justin, agreed.
"Despite being the oldest of the three, he was the smallest," Justin said. "It made him sort of Napoleonic in his personality—he had a warrior's frightening spirit, he knew he was the underdog, and he worked harder than anybody at overcoming his lack of raw talent."
After graduating from Marion High School in 1988, Bowen joined the Army and moved to Maryland, where he worked in military intelligence. In 1992, he joined the Maryland National Guard, serving until 1995, then re-enrolled in 2001 and served until his death.
Bowen re-enlisted in the National Guard after Sept. 11, 2001, because he wanted to see active duty, his brother said.
"He wanted to be hands on and in the middle of everything," he said.
Bowen stayed put in Maryland. He attended the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, where he received a degree in computer science. There, he met his second wife, Ursula, his Spanish instructor.
Tiffany Gomez met the couple in 2002 after they moved next door in the Violetville neighborhood of Baltimore. The families hit it off, and the Bowens asked Gomez and her husband, Juan, to be godparents to their daughter, Gabriela.
"He was your typical American patriotic dude, very much into his family and his country," she said. "He was a very fulfilled man."
Gomez recalled the Bowens frequently exchanging terms of endearment in Spanish.
"He called her mi corazon, and she called him mi amor," she said.
Though Bowen served for roughly 14 years, he didn't see combat until 2007, when he volunteered to go to Afghanistan to train its soldiers.
Two weeks before he was scheduled to go home, Bowen volunteered for one last patrol near the Pakistani border. He was 6 miles from his base when his convoy was hit by the improvised explosive device.
Two others in his vehicle were killed, another survived 10 days. Bowen suffered serious burns and was in critical condition when he was airlifted to Germany and later to Texas.
Word spread quickly of Bowen's injuries, and an outpouring of sympathy came. Ursula set up a Web site devoted to her husband—www.collinbowen.com.
The guestbook had 977 messages as of Tuesday and was growing. Friends and strangers wrote to wish Bowen the best and more recently, to offer their condolences.
The site features many photos as well, from the Baltimore Ravens' cheerleaders holding a sign saying, "Stay Strong Sgt. Bowen," to a slideshow from Afghanistan sent by a comrade.
Bowen received a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart. In his native Indiana, American Legion Post No. 10 named Bowen "Military Person of the Year," earlier this month.
Bowen is survived by his wife, Ursula; three daughters, Gabriela, 3, Katelyn, 10, and Erin, 13; two brothers, Justin and Shelby of Indianapolis; and parents, Carolyn Smith, of Marion, and Michael J. Bowen, also of Marion.
Services will be in Indiana and Bowen will be buried in Arlington National Cemetery on Tuesday.