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Altman: Wreath honor personal for son of pilot killed in crash

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Published:   |   Updated: October 27, 2013 at 08:38 PM

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Earlier this month at a six-day youth leadership course in the nation's capital, Logan Cowan heard someone ask him to stand up.

“I was kind of shocked, actually,” says Cowan, a 17-year-old from Clearwater.

Cowan was one of four students participating in the National Youth Leadership Forum on National Security who were selected to place a wreath at The Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery. He was chosen based on an essay he wrote. Nearly 60 students submitted one.

“It really is prestigious,” says Josh Wyatt, the program manager.

For Cowan, laying the wreath was more than prestigious. It was deeply personal.

When he was 8, his father, Army Chief Warrant Officer 3 Aaron Cowan, was killed in a helicopter training crash in Korea.

“It had more of a personal meaning than just laying a wreath,” Cowan said. “It has been difficult. I'm not going to lie.”

Cowan, a member of the Civil Air Patrol, commander of his local honor guard and a senior at Palm Harbor University High School's International Baccalaureate Program, has been struggling to cope with his father's death. Writing the essay, he says, provided healing.

“It did let me think through some of the things I have been ignoring for a while,” Cowan said. “How I viewed my dad and what I really thought about him. How I wanted to respect him.”

In his essay, Cowan talks about his role with the honor guard, which has included providing cordons for the World War II veterans returning from the Honor Flights to the National World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.

“Every time I do one of these performances, there is nothing in my mind but the respect for the sacrifices these people made in service to their country,” he wrote. “Nothing political, nothing social, just pure honoring their service. I can flip this switch because all my life I've been around the military. In fact, I was born into it. My father was in the Army as a helicopter pilot and was killed in a training accident in 2005. Through the proxy of honoring all veterans and all service members, I can indirectly honor my father's memory and his military career. And this means a lot to me, because the majority of what I remember about him was from his time in the Army.”

The wreath laying, on Oct. 5, went by in a flash.

“It was very fast,” he says. “But I felt like I was doing something really great, and it was such an honor for me to do it.”

Adding to the moment, Cowan says, was that Cody Mann, another youth from his group, was also chosen to place a wreath.

The two didn't know each other before arriving at the program, but they became fast friends.

In part because Mann, 15, is also from the Tampa area, living in Riverview and attending Middleton High School.

And he, too, is the son of a soldier, in this case Scott Mann, who retired last year as a lieutenant colonel.

“I got to go and watch him lay the wreath,” said Scott Mann, who I got to know through his work with the Village Stability Operations program created by U.S. Special Operations Command. “It was one of the proudest moments of my life, much prouder than my retirement, with my buddies laying down in the meadow below.”

Aaron Cowan was cremated and his ashes interred off the coast of Oahu, says his widow, Kari Cowan.

The experience, she says, has been beneficial for her son, who is in the process of applying for the Air Force Academy.

That process included writing essays for Sen. Marco Rubio and U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young, who died this month.

“It is sad that my son never got to meet him,” says Cowan, who I met at Young's funeral last week.

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When the Navy Blue Angels aerial performance team sent out word that it was back in action after automatic budget cuts put the kibosh on its flying schedule, I called the folks at the 6th Air Mobility Wing at MacDill Air Force Base.

The Blue Angels were the headliners at AirFest 2013, a two-day event showcasing the machines and personnel of the flying service. AirFest was scheduled for April but later canceled by the budget cuts known as sequestration. I wanted to know that, with the Blue Angels back in the skies, if there would be an AirFest 2014.

“MacDill AFB understands the importance of holding events which reach out to the community we are proud to be a part of,” 2nd Lt. Patrick J. Gargan wrote in an email. “As we recover from the government shutdown and sort out budgetary constraints, we are receiving further guidance on community outreach events.”

There's no news yet, but officials at the wing are mulling it over.

“We are waiting for guidance from higher headquarters,” Gargan says.

The Blue Angels will perform in the Bay area next year, at the Sun 'n Fun Fly-In in Lakeland in April.

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Are you a veteran or spouse of a veteran who served in World War II or the Korean or Vietnam wars and have limited assets and a low income?

Stetson University College of Law has extended to Oct. 31 the deadline for signing up for its wills program.

The daylong free event takes place from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Nov. 5 at Great Hall at the college, 1401 61st St. S., Gulfport.

Volunteer attorneys from the Community Law Program will assist Stetson's Center for Excellence in Elder Law and the Veterans Law Institute in helping with the wills.

Individuals must make an appointment to verify information for wills prior to Nov. 5. Walk-in appointments are not permitted. To schedule an appointment, call (727) 562-7800, Ext. 7315, or (727) 562-7393.

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The Pentagon announced the deaths of two troops last week.

Lance Cpl. Christopher O. Grant, 20, of Richwood, La., died Oct. 20 while conducting combat operations in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. He was assigned to 1st Battalion, 9th Marines, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Lejeune, N.C.

Sgt. Lyle D. Turnbull, 31, of Norfolk, Va., died Oct. 18 in Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, from a medical emergency. The cause of his death is under investigation. Turnbull was assigned to the 62nd Expeditionary Signal Battalion, 11th Signal Brigade, Fort Hood, Texas.

There have now been 2,276 U.S. troop deaths in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, the nation's longest war.

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