Two veterans shared stories at Retirement Guys’ eventWritten by Danielle Stanton | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Stationed in Kuwait, Toledo native Joseph Bowser walked to the chow hall beside his buddy, who was reciting the McDonald’s menu he had memorized. It was 2004 and they were serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“My buddy knew what was super-sized, what came with what,” said Bowser to a crowd of about 250 people who came out for The Retirement Guys economic summit Jan. 31 at The Pinnacle in Maumee.
Bowser told the audience he left his friend to call and check on his four kids at home. As soon as he went to rejoin his buddy, he stepped from the building and heard a massive explosion.
“I knew right away I got hit,” he said. “I didn’t know how bad it was.”
He said the experience felt like a scene out of the movie “Saving Private Ryan.”
Bowser lay on the ground, screaming. A 122mm rocket had exploded meters away. He saw dirt spray back to the earth.
“I thought, ‘How am I going to tell my kids what happened?’” he said.
Two medics arrived on the scene and tried to stop the bleeding. They cut off his pants. Another round hit and the medics protected his body with their own.
“One thing I’d like to do is give those two girls a hug,” Bowser said.
Doctors tried to save his lower right leg that night, but shrapnel had entered his heel and the tissue was dying. They loaded him into a C-17 bound for Germany for further operations.
Doctors at Walter Reed told him they could try to save his leg but he would be in pain for the rest of his life. Or, he could have it amputated and do everything he did before. He decided to have it amputated so he could continue playing hockey, the love of his life.
“I love hockey. I can take a slap shot to the right foot – it doesn’t even hurt,” Bowser joked, an example of his resilient spirit in the face of adversity.
Bowser went to work for the Defense Department and spent a year with the Veterans Administration. In 2007, he began work for wounded warriors under the Secretary of the U.S. Army. The 14-year Army veteran advises the secretary on wounded warrior issues and travels across the country visiting with wounded veterans. That year he also joined the U.S. Amputee Hockey League, winning a silver medal.
Bowser was one of three guest speakers at The Retirement Guys’ twice-yearly economic summit, “Protecting What Matters.” Also speaking was Navy SEAL Chad Williams and Camelot Portfolios CEO Darren Munn.
The night celebrated Nolan Baker’s and Mark Clair’s 15-year anniversary together as business partners. Baker and Clair teamed up in 2001 to educate people on how to gain financial independence in retirement. They have been speaking on 1370 WSPD radio every Saturday at 1 p.m. for more than nine years to answer questions and give advice on retirement. They also write a column for Toledo Free Press.
Baker, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, spoke briefly on several topics, including protecting income, protecting against loss and protecting outside investments such as a 401(k).
“We’re mainly optimistic on the market,” Baker told the audience, but cautioned that markets can change quickly.
Baker said he knew at a young age his life would be in financial services. He took his first financial services exam a month after he turned 18. He is married to wife Karen, his high school sweetheart.
Darren Munn, CEO of Camelot Portfolios, said in his talk that the economy has shown signs of progress as more people buy homes and the job market improves. The unemployment rate dropped to 6.7 percent in December compared to 10 percent in 2009.
However, people may still feel as though they are in a recession because disposable income rates have stagnated, he said.
Former Navy SEAL Chad Williams of Huntington Beach, Calif., spoke about his journey into the Navy SEALs, the loss of his mentor and his path to a higher purpose.
Williams said he felt like he had become a “loser.” He had been attending junior college in his hometown in California, cutting class to surf. He was failing school and decided he needed a change. Two ideas occurred to him: He could become an Alaskan crab fisherman or he could become a Navy SEAL.
He picked Navy SEAL. His father was less than enthusiastic and hired U.S. Navy SEAL Scott Helvenston to take Williams on hardcore training workouts, in the hopes of discouraging him from pursuing the special forces.
The workouts had the opposite effect and Helvenston soon became Williams’ friend, mentor and hero.
Helvenston, who is the youngest man to become a Navy SEAL, had the opportunity to go to Fallujah, Iraq as a contractor in 2004.
Williams was scheduled to report to Navy boot camp in 19 days. Helvenston had left him some pre-recorded video workouts. Williams turned on the TV to start a workout and saw Helvenston’s face on the screen.
Helvenston was lying in a Fallujah street surrounded by a mob. His clothing was smoldering and people were chanting “Fallujah is the graveyard of Americans.”
Williams watched as they dragged Helvenston’s body through the streets, strung him up and set him on fire.
“It felt like … I was dying,” Williams said. “I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know what to think.”
Williams felt resolve to complete the U.S. military’s most difficult training and avenge his friend’s death. He became one of 13 of 173 trainees to make it through to graduation. He went on to serve on SEAL Teams 1 and 7 from 2004-10, completing tours of duty in the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Iraq.
In Iraq, Williams’ team was ambushed by enemy fire near the same road where Helvenston was killed five years before.
“Graduation day was one of the happiest days of my life and one of the lowest days of my life,” Williams said. “I built up the mystery and hope. … I put so much into becoming a Navy SEAL. …. There’s nothing at the top of the mountain. … I was still just a human being thirsty for something else. It’s the human experience.”
Williams attended church near the time of his graduation and heard an inspiring story that led him to a life with purpose. He’s now committed to full-time ministry work using the training and experience he gained as a SEAL to communicate the gospel to others, he wrote in his book “Seal of God.”
Click here for more photos from the event.