Northwest Military Blogs: McChord Flightline Chatter

August 30, 2011 at 3:25am

McChord's 446th commander off to flying start

Photo by Ingrid Barrentine Col. Bruce A. Bowers Jr., is commander of the 446th Airlift Wing, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., Washington's only flying Air Force Reserve wing.

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Colonel Bruce A. Bowers Jr.'s dream of becoming a pilot was on the verge of being lost. As a flight student, he was down to his last opportunity to fly his trainer aircraft without getting motion sickness. If he got sick in any way, he would wash out and remain an avionics system engineer.

His final opportunity to fly was on a Monday, so Bowers spent the weekend spinning in a chair at his house, training his body for the physical and mental rigors associated with flying. His personal, somewhat unorthodox training method worked; he became a pilot, and is now passing on that legacy of determination and dream achievement to younger Airmen as the new commander for the 446th Airlift Wing at McChord Field.

The past 60 days have been a whirlwind for the 53-year-old North Carolina native. He hasn't stopped moving since taking the leadership reins of Washington state's only Air Force Reserve flying wing. Bowers led his unit to an excellent showing during the Air Mobility Command Rodeo here, falling just short of tying its active-duty counterpart, the 62nd Airlift Wing, in medals and awards.

For Bowers, it's not about the recognition or attention - but teamwork. One of his subordinate units, the 446th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, received Air Forcewide press for providing nurses and medics to help the Pakistani air force team compete.

"The building of that team you can't put a price tag on the relationship formed," Bowers said. "You will do things for friends that you won't do for competitors." That philosophy is one of the reasons Bowers gets along so well with his counterpart, 62nd AW Commander Col. R. Wyn Elder. The two Air Force colonels' wings share the 40-plus C-17 Globemaster III airplanes residing at McChord.

Nearly 2,400 Air Force Reservists comprise the wing and fly about 44 percent of all missions leaving McChord daily in support of U.S. worldwide operations. And add the support the 446th AW provides to Joint Base Lewis-McChord garrison and its commander, Col. Thomas Brittain, it's no surprise that AMC Commander Gen. Raymond E. Johns Jr. dubbed the three commanders "Team EBB" during last month's Rodeo.

"The fact that he recognized we are a team shows how we can work together," Bowers said. "You don't get to choose your parents or your kids, but you are a family, and that's what we are - a (joint base) family."

His career status as a wing commander is a far cry from the pig farming days of his grandfather or Soldier's life of his father. That's why working at an Army-Air Force joint base partnership is so special for Bowers, because he sees what he most admired about his father in every Soldier on JBLM. "When I see a Soldier, I see my dad," Bowers said.

His degree from North Carolina State University and a strong military background led Bowers to try his hand at the Air Force. He attended Officer Training School and received a commission in May 1981. His first assignment as a lieutenant was learn how to be an F-15 avionics systems engineer at the Air Force Institute of Technology, then at Auburn University. While getting another degree, he had the chance to talk to some pilots about flying. He has been hooked ever since.

"Luck will get you places that ‘good' won't take you," Bowers said, referring to meeting the people who influenced him into becoming a pilot. Despite the motion sickness issues during pilot training, Bowers has logged more than 9,000 hours without getting sick again, and has achieved the senior command pilot rating. He has flown seven aircraft during his career, including the C-9 Nightingale, C-141 Starlifter and C-17.

When he was younger, he said the best pilots tended to be musicians or athletes. Today's pilots have excellent hand-eye coordination from growing up playing video games as children. Bowers said the "Nintendo generation" would rival any of the Air Force's pilots from previous generations.

"I've had the opportunity to fly with some of these young Airmen and they can do things that I can't do , and they do it the first time that they see it," Bowers said. "Across the board, the education our folks get, the smarts and savvy, is just amazing."

Reserve commanders have to maintain relationships with employers and civic leaders in unique ways, he said. Supporting combat and humanitarian missions worldwide while ensuring his Airmen are trained and ready at home means that 446th AW Reservists potentially work many more days than the Reserve standard of two days a month and two weeks a year, Bowers said. Employers are mandated by law to release Reserve Airmen when they are called up for active duty, but Bowers understands the economic impact of local employers losing their employees to military duty.

"I can't pay employers for letting that Airman go," Bowers said, "but I can show (employers) what their folks are doing and make them as proud of their employees as I am for what they are doing for this nation."

That's why the 446th AW has instituted programs to bring employers to the installation to see their employee's military workplaces, even taking civilian employers up for rides on aircraft to gain better understandings of their employees' military responsibilities.

Even though Bowers has 30 years of service in the Air Force, he said he's the new guy in the 446th AW. Walking into an established culture where the average Airman has 10 to 15, even 30 years at the unit is daunting, yet thrilling, Bowers said. "You better recognize that there are some smart people here," he said. "To be here is just a dream come true and just craziness."

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