Item 6: CD player. Still in his splint but moving around more as the meds ran out, Bowmen was getting back into the swing of things. He was signing out tools and talking awkward smack to anyone who passed by his area. He’d been banned from all activities not related to tool accountability and we’d done our best to make him comfortable in his place of duty. He had his CD player set up and all was going smoothly. Until inventory time. Tool room inventories are a tiresome, mind numbing experiences, but are a necessary evil. This doesn’t make them any less stressful, and Bowmen never did handle stress well. The skipping in the CD he was playing became too much for him during the inventory. The problem was compounded by the fact that normal operations still had to be conducted and those operations required tools. Having had enough, Bowmen’s neck and forehead veins erupted. He charged over to the CD player, cussing it, its maker, me for needing a tool, the Iraqi heat, and the Army in general. He raised his left hand as he hobble/darted to his transistorized source of torment, and punched downward in a sweeping overhand arc. All was silent for about five seconds. He screamed and cradled his still bandaged hand against his chest as he flung himself earthward. The aid station reset the bone and refilled his prescription. We brought him meals for the next few days and wouldn’t let him off his stool except to relieve himself or to go to his rack at the end of the shift.
Item 7: Fire extinguisher. As with most military activities, there are record keeping requirements and destruction schedules with which to comply. In Iraq, we didn’t have a destruction facility so we used a burn barrel. The barrel had to be extinguished at the end of each business day lest we cause a wild fire fully fueled by sand and dust. This is where Bowmen comes back into play. Feeling back up to snuff and getting bored tending the tool room, he was given the task to extinguish the barrel every day when he’d finished burning old maintenance records. The Army uses a variety of fire extinguishers for a variety of fire types. For example, we use halon fire suppression systems to remove oxygen from the inside of burning vehicles or ABC type as a general purpose extinguisher. As we began our end of day briefing with Chief and the NCOs, Bowmen went outside to douse the burn barrel.
A cloud of smoke and chemical wafted slowly by the maintenance bay doors and caught our attention. Realizing that it was just the barrel being put out, we gave it little more than a passing glance. Then we saw the hand. A yellow dust coated hand twisted into something like an arthritic’s gnarled phalanges groped at the ground and was then passed by a second, equally twisted appendage. Bowmen’s head then came into view. It too was coated in yellow chemical dust and the grayish soot of burned paper. His hair was blown upward and to the left. He was coughing and gasping for breath and rolled onto his back and gazed in our direction with pleading, extinguisher dust choked eyes. We sprang into immediate action. Bursting into fits of uncontrolled laughter proved the correct course of action as it spurred Bowmen into a fit of rage. With a loud and thunderous “F@(R%(*&#&*U*UQO!”, Bowmen cleared his lungs and proceeded to announce that each of us came from parents who were never legally wed and suggested we commit carnal acts upon ourselves that are technically impossible and most likely quite painful. Some people just don’t know how to express gratitude when their lives have been saved.
I still don’t know where he found a hand-held halon fire extinguisher.
Item 8: Truck grille (or Iraqi mud depending on interpretation). While not the funniest of accounts, I can’t reminisce about Iraq without remembering Bowmen losing a fight to an armored truck’s grille. The truck in question was a cab over engine design that required the cab to tilt forward on hinges and hydraulics in order to work on the engine. The radiator was protected by a heavy armor plate designed to permit air flow for cooling the engine while protecting the engine compartment from damage. It was too heavy to remove each time a cab was lifted, so we’d remove the bottom two bolts and swing it upwards. You could then place the bolts back through the holes and they would hold the plate up so the cab could be raised. I was outside in my camo net covered welding shop adjacent to what we called “deadline row”. It was a small parking lot we parked disabled vehicles in until we could get the parts to fix them. Helpful as ever, Bowmen was sweeping the lot with a large push broom. I mentally noted his general vicinity the way a parent might be perpetually aware of a toddler’s whereabouts. After a while I relaxed. After all, he’s sweeping dirt. What could go wrong, right? A large patch of dried mud is what can go wrong. He ducked under the raised grille of the broken truck an extended the broom out to reach the mud pile that had fallen from the undercarriage. I don’t know why he stood up so fast, but there was a loud clang like a church bell ringing followed by a clipped yelp. I turned back around just as he went limp and crumpled to the ground. He came too as I arrived and commenced to screaming, cussing, and yelling at the truck, the broom, the dirt, Iraq, and me. He tried to break the broom handle across his knee which did nothing to the broom. The now sprung broom handle seemed to act like a crossbow. Then again, it could have been knee pain and Bowmen’s typical response to discomfort: the oft employed Bowmen self-earthward hurl.
Matt Bowmen was not a good Soldier. I can’t think of a single thing he ever accomplished on his own. I have to say this though: He served with honor. This is a claim that about 1% of the American population can make. He was discharged honorably for medical reasons, but his new life as a civilian brought more troubles. He couldn’t hold down a job and had difficulty forming lasting relationships. Bowmen made a lot of bad choices after the Army and was eventually arrested for charges I won’t share. As disturbing as the charges were, you don’t air a Brother’s dirty laundry. His first night in a county jail in a back woods Florida town was his last. Rather than face society for the crimes he’d committed, he fashioned a noose out of bed sheets and ended his life after just 28 short years.
You were a screwed up little guy, but you are missed.