After spending nine months as a Marine in Iraq, junior Todd Bowers couldn’t stand what he saw in the news when he returned home.
“No matter what direction I looked, there was news about how things were going downhill in Iraq,” Bowers said. “I knew I was never going to get a good night’s sleep until I returned to try and patch things up.”
Bowers, 24, who has been in Fallujah since August 2004, made his first tour in Iraq from January 2003 to September 2003. He decided he had to go back for a second time because he was haunted by media reports indicating that the situation in Iraq was worsening.
He is currently assigned to a civil affairs team that seeks to reduce civilian interference during military operations. Now in a war zone for a second time, Bowers said he has no regrets.
“My first tour was filled with everything from fear, happiness and most importantly, a feeling of gratification,” Bowers wrote in an e-mail earlier this month. “I really felt that I had done some good and I guess I returned to find that feeling again. I did.”
Ask him what a typical day in Iraq is like, and you’ll be hard pressed to get a simple answer. Whether he’s rebuilding infrastructure, evacuating Iraqis from dangerous areas or taking care of refugees, Bowers finds his job rewarding.
“We play a large role in showing the Iraqi people that we are here not only to rid them of the insurgency, but to help them repair this battle worn country,” Bowers said. “To sum it up, we add a human face to the uniform, not just a rifle.”
Bowers described Iraqis as “the most amazing people I have ever come into contact with.” He said that even though they have suffered through the rule of Saddam Hussein and the hardship of war, they are upbeat, positive and believe their situation will improve slowly but surely. He said he has many friends in Iraq and hopes to leave an impression on the citizens of Fallujah. The city is located in the Sunni Triangle, where armed resistance has been fiercest. In November, U.S. and Iraqi forces besieged the city in a successful effort to wrest control of it from the insurgents.
Bowers said one of the most rewarding experiences in Iraq was working last month’s Iraqi elections, which went relatively smoothly. America’s role in the elections was mostly in the background, providing security, preparing voting sites and organizing election workers, Bowers said. Turnout throughout the country was overwhelming, he said, adding that the polling site he was stationed at had the highest turnout in Fallujah, a city plagued by violence and upheaval since Hussein’s overthrow. He said that because of the elections, Iraq is one step closer to genuine freedom.
“For me this is the culmination of the past two years of my life,” Bowers said. Though he has enjoyed working to improve Iraq, the task does not come without risk. He said he has encountered some extremely close calls. When on patrol in October, Bowers found himself in a firefight with insurgents. He calls himself the luckiest man in Fallujah because he had just about the closest call possible – a sniper shot that hit his rifle scope – and managed to survive relatively intact.
“The scope stopped a majority of the round sending only a few pieces of shrapnel into the left side of my face and ear,” Bowers said. “My left eye was protected by my safety goggles and the scope kept the sniper round from taking off my head. Needless to say, it does not get any closer than that.”
He also said that as Marines pushed into Fallujah, bullets whizzed past his head and shrapnel from a mortar hit him in the helmet. He has three pieces of shrapnel embedded in his face.
“The doctors have told me that other than setting off airport metal detectors, I should have no future complications,” he said. “I hope the memories fade with the scars.”
Bowers added that after six months in Iraq, he misses his home. “I miss everything. I miss my bed, my apartment, the city and most of all my friends and family. I never thought I would say this but I really miss going to class,” he said. “I have never been a stellar student but I plan to change that when I get home.”
Bowers said that everyone at GW – from professors to academic advisors – was helpful in working with him to make arrangements to take time off from school to serve in Iraq.
Professor Robert Trost, who taught Bowers in Economics 11, said the Marine is polite and personable. Though he wasn’t the best student in terms of grades, Bowers made contributions to the class and students enjoyed hearing his stories about Iraq, Trost said.
Astronomy professor Leonard Maximon also taught Bowers and helped him make arrangements as he prepared to leave for Iraq. He said Bowers was passionate about astronomy, and listening to him describe the subject was “poetic.”
In a message dated Feb. 10, Bowers said he has “begun to wrap things up.” He and other Marines will be working with their replacements for the next few weeks to “show them the ropes” and prepare them to take over upon his departure. He said he will return to America in the middle of March, and until then, GW and Foggy Bottom will remain on his mind.
“At times, I would trade my rifle for a Philly Cheese steak from Lindy’s Red Lion,” Bowers said. “Oh yeah – and I miss cold beer too.”