Upgrade to a Distinguished Service Cross: The Story of Sgt.(R) Daniel Cowart

Published 7:50 am Wednesday, March 13, 2019

By Capt. Scott Kuhn


It was maintenance day that Sunday, May 13, 2007, in Samara, Iraq. Just another day for the Soldiers of 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division. For Sgt. Daniel Cowart, formerly of Orange, and 1st Platoon, Delta Co. there was plenty to do to get the vehicles and weapons ready for the week ahead. Late that morning they got a call from a sister platoon in need of a repair part. It was easier for the platoon to run the part out to the unit than to spin up a logistics convoy. It was just another Sunday in Iraq.

It was Mother’s Day, 2007 and for Sarah Cowart, it was pretty much like any other day. Her two-year-old twin daughters were at the table eating pancakes early in the morning while she talked on the phone with their grandma. She was looking forward to hearing from her husband later that day. It was just another Sunday at Fort Hood, Texas.

After the convoy dropped off the part they headed back to their base. They were on Route Tampa heading west and passed a slow-moving route clearance team heading east. The clearance team’s rate of travel was causing a backup of vehicles behind it. Lt. Andrew Bacevich, Jr., the platoon leader, decided to set up a snap traffic control point. The Soldiers of 1st platoon dismounted to do a quick check of the vehicles. Sgt. Cowart was the ranking NCO on the ground.

They had checked a few cars when Sgt. Cowart noticed a suspicious vehicle. He pointed it out and said, “let’s check that one.” There were two military-aged males driving the vehicle. The white, British-style car with the steering wheel on the opposite side was just too nice; it was out of place for the area. 

Sarah Cowart was finishing up her phone call with her Mother. It was time to get the twins cleaned up and get her day started. A phone call came through on her cell phone from a number that she didn’t recognize.

“Normally, I don’t answer the phone if I don’t recognize the number,” she said. But something told her to take the call. “It was the rear-d commander. He was calling to let me know that Daniel had been wounded, but he was still alive. They couldn’t tell me more than that. And my first thought was, I have to call his mom on Mother’s Day and tell her that her child’s been wounded.”
Her mother-in-law had already left for church, so she had to wait to give her the bad news. By a twist of fate, Sarah had changed her number and the rear detachment did not have her new number, so they had already called Daniel’s mom. It was one worry off her shoulders. She then called her friend who happened to be the wife of Sgt. Cowart’s loader. She had not heard if her husband had been wounded. Sarah gathered up the kids and headed to her friend’s house to await further word.

“We rotated positions just to change things up,” Sgt. Cowart said. “I was actually driving that day and had my loader jump up on the gun and that’s how I happened to be on the ground when it occurred.”

The two men exited the vehicle. One had a gun. The others didn’t. As members of the platoon engaged the man with the rifle, Sgt. Cowart took a split second to assess the other occupant. He did not have any weapons that were noticeable. Sgt. Cowart then engaged the man hand-to-hand, knocking him to the ground.
“It all goes black after that.”

The blast from the suicide vest killed Lt. Bacevich, who was also nearby and cost Sgt. Cowart his left leg, but his quick actions caused most of the blast to be contained by the ground and the vehicle, saving the lives of others in Sgt. Cowart’s platoon and countless other lives by keeping that device from reaching its intended target. He would earn the Silver Star for his actions.
He still doesn’t remember much about the actions that day. Most he pieced together from friends and witnesses.

“After the explosion, it starts to get a little blurry. I know I didn’t see a weapon. 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 in Ballad.”

According to the Cowarts it has been a roller coaster since then. In addition to losing his leg, Sgt. Cowart suffers from nerve damage to his right leg and hearing loss in both ears. After his injury, he had 20 surgeries over a span of 18 months. He retired from the Army and moved to Santa Fe, Texas where he had a good job and was active in sports such as cross fit and rock climbing. He was the chapter captain of the Houston chapter of Team Red, White, and Blue. 

Then, four years ago, Sgt. Cowart suffered another setback when he got an infection in his leg, causing the loss of an additional 4 inches of his femur. He was no longer able to use his prosthetic and spends the majority of time in his wheelchair, but he is determined to walk his girls down the aisle for their wedding one day.

“That one was hard. It felt like we were starting all over again,” Sarah said. But they got through it as a family. Sarah now works, while he plays chauffeur to his daughters. “I’m kind of enjoying my retirement right now,” he said with a chuckle. “I get to go to all of my kids’ events and just enjoy the moment.”

Fast forward to a few days before Christmas, 2018. Dan, Sarah, and their now teenaged twin daughters are preparing for the holidays. It was just another day in the Cowart home when the phone rang.

“Sergeant Major of the Army [Daniel] Daly called me and he said he was one of the people on the review board for the possible upgrade of medals earned during the war,” Cowart said. “I didn’t even know the Army was reviewing awards. That book was closed as far as I was concerned.”

Sgt. Daniel Cowart was to be awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the second highest medal awarded for valor after the Medal of Honor. The upgrade was ordered after the completion of a comprehensive, year-long Military Decorations and Awards Review, which was ordered by then Sec. of Def. Ash Carter.

“I broke down a little bit. My first feeling was why me,” Cowart said. “I don’t deserve that.”

Sarah smiles and shakes her head. “I always think he deserves everything. I tell him all the time. We’re his biggest cheerleaders.”

“There’s always that little bit of survivor’s guilt,” he said. “My Lieutenant didn’t make it. If my lieutenant would have lived then, maybe, but I’ll always feel like it is a little unfair.”
When asked if he would do it again, he quickly adds, “Absolutely. I wouldn’t hesitate.”

Sgt.(R) Daniel Cowart will be presented the Distinguished Service Cross at 4:30 p.m. on March 20, 2019, at Cooper Field, Fort Hood, Texas.