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November Commander's Corner

  • Published
  • By Col. Karl "Butch" Bowers, Jr..

In 1983 I enlisted in the South Carolina Air National Guard at age 17 and it only took me 37 years to finally get an opportunity to write a column for the SCANG News. As my high school basketball coach once told me, “Bowers, you’re very slow. But you make up for it with a lack of quickness!”  True to form, I am still very slow and lack quickness. But I finally made it to the SCANG News Commander’s column. And I could not be more thrilled to share a few thoughts with you. 

To paraphrase Paul McCartney, my SCANG career has truly been a long and winding road. I feel like I was a member of the student flight from the start. Back in the 1970s, my dad would bring me to drill weekends as a young boy. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was being groomed to be a Swamp Fox before I even understood what it really meant.  A few years later I enlisted in the SCANG as an E-1 medical materiel specialist with the 169th Medical Squadron. I did that job with middling success for nine years rising to the rank of Staff Sgt. After I finally finished college (I was on the 6-year plan), I was commissioned as a transportation officer following completion of the Academy of Military Science in 1992. However, I only performed that job for about a year as I was recruited back “home” to the Med Squadron where I became a medical service corps officer. After three years in that role I decided to go to law school and I ultimately became a JAG officer in 1999.

After 36 years of being a Swamp Fox, I was honored and humbled to be appointed as the 169th Fighter Wing Vice Commander. I can confirm that serving in that role was one of the highlights of my career, both militarily and in the civilian world. It was an extraordinary and challenging career-broadening experience. First and foremost, I experienced first-hand what I instinctively already knew: the SCANG is the best organization I have ever been a part of and it is for one reason – its people. From young Airmen to seasoned folks like me, I am convinced that we have the best and brightest people in the world, right here at McEntire. And we cannot forget that we stand on the shoulders of giants who came before us and have made all of this possible. The opportunity I had to work with every shop on base and to see the difference that our people make on a daily basis was truly awe-inspiring.

I also learned a lot in this role. A lot about our mission. A lot about our people. A lot about the talent that abounds on our little patch of land in Eastover. And a lot about the leadership of the SCANG. I also further honed and developed my leadership skills in the vice commander role which impressed upon me the awesome responsibility and privilege of command. Of course, 169th Fighter Wing Commander Col. Akshai Gandhi is truly one of the best leaders I have ever seen or worked with in both the military and civilian worlds. And I cannot thank him enough for his tutelage and putting up with me over the last year. But here’s the thing: I saw first-hand that it’s not just the senior leaders of the SCANG who excel. But it’s the leaders at all levels of our great organization who make McEntire great. From young Airmen to crusty old colonels. That’s because our culture breeds excellence, encourages innovation, and allows our people to experiment to see if we can do things even better. 

In the true Swamp Fox spirit, after 37 years of service to my great State and Nation, I am still committed to personal development and continuous improvement.  As I transition back to the JAG Corps, I am eager to use the skills I learned as the vice wing commander and to strive to attain “excellence in all I do” as a Swamp Fox.  I encourage every Swamp Fox, whether you are on your first enlistment or your fifth, to keep climbing to new heights and to try new things. Even if it is something you never would have thought you would be doing (I certainly never thought as an E-1 that I would serve as the vice wing commander one day). Pay attention to the leaders ahead of you, seek out mentors you admire, and soak up their knowledge. Never quit learning, never stop challenging yourself, and embrace excellence in every facet of your life. Simply put, be a Swamp Fox, and you will never go wrong.

In conclusion, I want to thank the women and men of the SCANG for affording me the opportunity to serve this past year as your vice wing commander. It was a rewarding experience, and it was truly awesome. Thank you!  If my high school basketball coach is right (and he was), my slowness and lack of quickness may turn out to be an asset in the long run. Semper Primus!