Gold Star Wife Thanks NGEF for Keeping a Father's Words Alive
Ursula Palmer still remembers the prophetic words from her then-husband the day in 2006 when he told her that he had volunteered to deploy to Afghanistan.
“He told me about the people he was going to go with. He tried to give me every single argument to make me feel comfortable,” Palmer said. “Seeing my frustration, my fear, he looked me in the eye and said, ‘Don’t worry. If anything happens to me, you will be very well taken care of.’
“I didn’t know what he meant,” she told a reception to honor recent major donors to the National Guard Educational Foundation on Nov. 18 at the National Guard Memorial, the NGAUS headquarters in Washington, D.C. “And I really, really was hoping I wouldn’t have to find out.”
But Palmer did find out. On Jan. 2, 2008, she received a phone call that Maryland Army National Guard Sgt. 1st Class Collin J. Bowen had been severely burned when his vehicle encountered an improvised explosive device in Khowst Province, Afghanistan, just two weeks before he was set to return home.
Fifteen surgeries later, on March 14, 2008, at the Army Burn Center at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas, Bowen took his last breaths with his wife at his side.
“A world of uncertainty opened for me,” said Palmer, a native of Colombia. “Our daughter, Gabriela, was only three years old. I had a few friends, but as an immigrant, and as an only child, my dad already passed away, my mom was sick. I really was alone.”
Or so she thought.
“Our neighbors. Gabriela’s day care. The officials of the university Collin and I attended. They all started to show up, either to help or honor Collin’s memory in some way,” Palmer said. “And those words Collin said to me started to resonate.”
Members of Bowen’s unit — 1st Battalion, 175th Infantry Regiment — also showed up, and they continue to show up nearly 16 years later.
They’ve provided comfort, shoveled snow and attended milestone events, such as Gabriela’s birthday parties and her high school graduation ceremony last year. Nine current or former members of the battalion attended the reception.
“They are my family,” Palmer said. “And they can share what kind of soldier Collin was better than I can.”
The larger Guard community has also proved Bowen’s words prophetic. Gabriela is studying business cybersecurity in her freshman year at the University of Alabama thanks in part to a $6,250 a year scholarship from the USAA Guardian Scholarship Fund, which helps the children of Guardsmen killed in the Global War on Terror go to college. She also attended the reception.
Administered by the NGEF, the fund has provided more than $700,000 to 110 kids of fallen Guardsmen over the last 13 years. Leonardo DRS was the original benefactor. USAA took over the role this year.
“Today, we just want to say thank you,” said Palmer, who remarried and lends her experience to the Air Force as a Warrior & Survivor Care Specialist with the service’s Airman and Family Care Policy Division at the Pentagon. She and retired Army Col. Timothy Palmer have a son, Ian Palmer, who also attended the reception.
“Thank you to the foundation. Thank you to USAA,” she added. “Your generosity provides peace of mind to a surviving parent. It provides our children with a future without student debt. That check that you write is the voice of each fallen warrior and their loved ones.
“‘Don’t worry, you will be very well taken care of,’” Palmer said, repeating her first husband’s promise. “Thank you for keeping those words alive.”
Two other Army Guard soldiers also died from wounds suffered in the Jan. 2, 2008, roadside bombing — Lt. Col. Richard Berrettini, of Pennsylvania, and Sgt. Shawn Hill, of South Carolina — along with an Afghan interpreter.
(From left) Ursula Palmer, Gabriela Bowen and Ian Palmer look at the name of Sgt. 1st Class Collin J. Bowen on the Memorial Wall in the National Guard Memorial Museum. The wall includes the more than 800 Guardsmen killed in the Global War on Terror (Photo courtesy of Paul Gillis Photography)