In a special ceremony Wednesday at Fort Hood, Sgt. Daniel Cowart, of Santa Fe, will receive the Distinguished Service Cross, the U.S. Army’s second highest award for extreme gallantry and valor, almost 12 years after Cowart placed himself between a man in a suicide vest and members of his platoon in Iraq.
Cowart is one of 12 soldiers around the country who will receive the Distinguished Service Cross, Army public affairs officer Gabriel Ramirez said.
“Previously recognized for their bravery by award of the Silver Star, the Department of Defense upgraded the soldiers’ medals as part of a comprehensive review of commendations for heroism in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Ramirez said.
Cowart, married to Sarah and the father of twin 14-year-old daughters, said he was surprised to learn his award had been upgraded when he got the call in December from Sgt. Major of the Army Daniel Dailey, who was on the review board for Cowart’s medal.
“He said my actions fit the criteria for the Distinguished Service Cross since they directly saved the lives of three of the men in my platoon,” Cowart said.
“I’m surprised and honored and everything like that. But my lieutenant was killed in the blast, so there’s a feeling of unfairness.
“Why should I be getting something like this, being congratulated when there’s a family out there that lives with the loss of their son every day? I feel like it’s a little unfair.”
Cowart’s platoon leader, Lt. Andrew Bacevich Jr., received a call on May 13, 2007 in Samara, Iraq, from a neighboring platoon in need of a motor-vehicle part. Bacevich and his crew, including Cowart, delivered the part by convoy and were headed back to base when they passed a slow-moving route-clearance team heading in the other direction, backing up vehicles behind it. Bacevich set up a traffic control point and his platoon dismounted to do a quick check of the vehicles.
One of them, a British-style car that looked nicer than the others, seemed suspicious and Cowart and his fellow soldiers checked it out. Two men were in it — one with a rifle and one who appeared unarmed.
After the men emerged from the vehicle, Cowart confronted the unarmed man, knocking him to the ground.
“I know I didn’t see a weapon,” Cowart said. “I didn’t see a suicide vest. I wasn’t just going to shoot an unarmed guy, but I knew he was a threat and had to do something.
“We had a struggle, but then it was all black, and I woke up in a hospital.”
The blast destroyed most of Cowart’s left leg, but his quick actions contained the blast to the ground below and to the vehicle, saving the lives of others in Cowart’s platoon and an unknown number of others, the intended targets of the bomber somewhere down the line.
Cowart’s medical journey was arduous. He underwent 20 surgeries over 18 months. He lost his left leg, suffered nerve damage and hearing loss in both ears. He retired from the Army and settled first in Pearland. In 2015, an infection in his left leg led to the loss of 4 more inches of his femur, leaving him largely wheelchair-bound.
In 2017, the family built their fully wheelchair accessible home in Santa Fe. It’s nice and quiet, Cowart said.
“I’m doing a lot better,” he said. “I’m working out again. I’ve struggled with weight over the past couple years, but it’s coming off.”
Previously a CrossFit and rock-climbing enthusiast, he went skiing this winter and is working on scheduling an adaptive surfing trip to California. He’s not able to tolerate a prosthetic, but is determined to get back on his feet in the coming years, to walk his daughters down the aisle at their weddings, he said.
This week at Fort Hood, in a ceremony to be held in the late afternoon with mounted cavalry and full military regalia, Sgt. Cowart will be joined by his immediate family, parents and in-laws, uncles, a nephew, friends and two platoon mates who were with him on the truck that day in Iraq.
“They’re pulling out all the stops,” Cowart said.