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Carroll grads reunited over skies of Afghanistan

Allen Worrell, News Writer

December 13, 2011

For most people, high school reunions take place near a football field or a gymnasium. Clearly, John Bowes and Sam Turner arent like most people.

Carroll County High School Class of 1993 graduates, Bowes and Turner met for one of the most unlikely high school reunions on Dec. 2 as the two were reunited high in the skies of Afghanistan in the cockpit of a KC-130J.

Bowes, now a Major and a pilot in the U.S. Marines, and Turner, the Group Surgeon for the Second Marine Logistics Group, found themselves flying together on a logistics flight in support of II Marine Expeditionary Forces Forward to destinations that included Bastion Airfield/Camp Leatherneck, Forward Operating Base Dwyer, Bagram Airfield, Kabul International Airport and Kandahar Airfield.

While Bowes was transporting cargo and troops for the U.S. Marines in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, Turner was aboard as a doctor on a mission to visit Role III, a combat hospital in Kandahar.

In high school, Bowes and Turner were both exceptional students. Turner would go on to double major in Chemistry and Physics at the University of Virginia, while Bowes graduated from Christendom College in Front Royal, Va. with degrees in Political Science and Economics. Even so, the two werent much different from other high school students. Certainly, you would have never convinced the two 20 years ago theyd be flying a wartime mission together in Afghanistan.

We kind of chuckled about that the other day when we were flying together. We said, Think back to 1992 and think what would you be doing years down the road. I dont think either of us would have believed it, Bowes said. It was a lot of fun flying with him and good seeing him again.

While the two have remained friends and kept in touch since high school, they hadnt seen each other in six years before flying together earlier this month. Turner jokes that he still has a hard time believing his old high school buddy is now a pilot in the Marine Corps.

I wanted to see with my own eyes they let him fly the planes. I didnt halfway believe it, Turner said with a big laugh. But it was pretty cool and John loves it. We joked about what would our high school selves thought years ago about what we are doing now? We would be proud, but also surprised to see what we were both doing.

After landing in Kandahar, the two caught up on old times over dinner at TGI Fridays. Yes, Virginia, there is a TGI Fridays in Afghanistan.

Yes, TGI Fridays with the waitstaff in striped shirts and funny decorations and the whole thing, Turner said. It didnt really taste like TGIFs, but it was something different.

As a KC130J pilot, air missions for Bowes typically consist of refueling airborne jets and helicopters. The Executive Officer of VMGR-252 Detachment Bravo at Kandahar Airfield, Bowes plane is capable of carrying 92 troops or six pallets. In technical terms, his squadrons mission is to support the Marine Air Ground Task Force Commander by providing air-to-air refueling and assault support, day or night, under all weather conditions during expeditionary, joint, or combined operations. During his current deployment, his squadron has supported with fixed wing aerial refueling, daily logistics runs, battlefield illumination and aerial delivery. The squadron often conducts missions at night using night vision goggles, Bowes said.

Bowes current tour of duty is his fifth combat deployment since the U.S went to war in Iraq and Afghanistan. He served two tours during Operation Iraqi Freedom (once to Kuwait and once to Iraq) and three tours to Operation Enduring Freedom (twice to Afghanistan and once to the Horn of Africa). He also served a non-combat deployment in support of Joint Task Force in Liberia.

The life of a pilot during the war is always dangerous, but something Bowes modestly says is just part of his job.

That is what we train for, you go to war and as a pilot you support the ground fight but you are somewhat removed from the day to day intensity of ground combat. Being fired at while airborne with small arms fire and AAA pales in comparison to being exposed to IEDs and direct fire that our counterparts on the ground experience on a daily basis, Bowes said. Our main threat here at KAF is taking IDF (indirect fire), we receive so much we are commonly referred to as a rocket magnet. Thank goodness none of our personnel have gotten hit.

Fortunately for Bowes, his current seven-month tour will end just in time for Christmas. He said he will be very grateful to return to his home in Okinawa, where he has been stationed since 2009, to be with his wife Gretchen and their four kids

Dominic, Matthew, Emily and Zachary.

My wife and kids are pretty excited too, Bowes said. I have missed many birthdays, anniversaries and holidays, but its just one of those things. Its part of the job.

Major Bowes is currently in his 14th year with the U.S. Marine Corps. He plans to at least serve for the next six years until he is eligible for retirement.

I love what I do. I hate being away from my family, but I love to fly, Bowes said. It will be tough to transition out of this one day, Im not going to lie.

Turner also has a long military service history. Getting his start in the Navy while at the University of Virginia, the Carroll native has served in the Navy since he was 17. After his graduation from UVa, Turner was immediately commissioned as an Ensign.

Turner is currently in the midst of his third deployment overseas, but first since 2004. In 2003, he served in Iraq before being deployed in Afghanistan the following year. He is currently serving at Camp Leatherneck in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan.

As the senior medical officer for the MarineLogisitics Group, Turners primary duties are to advise the Commanding General on all medical matters and to oversee all medical care and medical operations in the logistics group. The Logistics group has four battalion level medical departments, four Shock Trauma Platoons, and two Forward Resussitative Surgical Systems (combat surgical units) which provide everything from routine sickcall to lifesaving damage control surgery.

As the Group Surgeon, Turner jokes that his military service is pretty boring compared to Bowes. Even so, he knows all too well the perils of war.

Iraq was pretty interesting because we were invading the country and we got shot at a fair amount then. But this deployment is pretty much a desk job for me. I just try to stay off the road and fly when I travel, Turner said. I dont do a whole lot of patient care right now, its mostly administrative.

Unlike Bowes, Turner will not be home for the holidays this year. He said his current deployment is set to end in late January or early February of 2012. Then hell return home to Hubert, North Carolina, just outside of Camp Lejeune, to be with his wife Emily, who is expecting the couples fourth child in February. The couple has two sons, Liam and Jack, and a daughter, Natalie.