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VMI graduate bears class ring on special occasions in Iraq

18 Jun 2004 | Cpl. Shawn C. Rhodes

Cpl. Christopher R. Bowers has a little ritual he performs before every patrol.  It doesn't seem like much, but the trained eye, it's tradition he's done hundreds of times.

Bowers reaches into his cargo pocket while other Marines from 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment gear up.  He pulls out a ring and slips it on his finger, the ring he earned when he graduated from the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Va.

"Whenever I wear that ring, things seem to work out for the best, so I only wear it for special occasions where I think it might be needed," Bowers said with his aristocratic southern drawl. 

The motor transport operator earned the steel ring when he graduated from VMI in 1997.  It's accompanied him around the globe and has seen at least two combat tours. 

Despite his almost religious adherence to wearing the ring, he doesn't claim to be a superstitious man.

"I've never put much stock in good luck charms," Bowers said.  Still, he's never without the ring on a patrol.

Bowers is a bit of a contradiction.  He's a VMI graduate, yet an enlisted man.  He attended the institute on an Air Force ROTC scholarship.  He's got a history degree that helps him keep his eyes peeled in the land considered the cradle of civilization.

"I really loved studying archeology in college, so I'm always on the lookout for old ruins or artifacts out there," Bowers said. 

The five-foot, seven-inch tall man stands shorter than many of his comrades, but he commands a presence all the Marines around him notice.

"He does what good corporals are supposed to do - when he completes a job he comes back and asks what else there is for him to accomplish," said Staff Sgt. Thomas D. Shaw, the 34-year-old battalion motor transport chief from Bartlesville, Okla.  "He is the politest guy you could ever meet.  A true southern gentleman."

Shaw said Bower's typical southern goodness goes to even his thick accent, reminding him of Foghorn Leghorn, the oversized cartoon rooster of Looney Tunes.

"When we crossed the border into Iraq last year, I looked over and saw him slip his ring on," Shaw said.  "It's pretty much expected at this point for Bowers to have his ring on"

Bowers echoed Shaw's statement by saying, "If I didn't have the ring on when I was doing something, it wouldn't feel right to me."

Bowers keeps the ring in a small zippered pouch in his cargo pocket.  When he takes it out, he looks at it almost nostalgically with his grayish-blue eyes.  Although he still has plans of accepting a commission, he is content with his place in life.

"I've got a very idealistic view of why I serve.  I do it for all the classic reasons - for mom and apple pie and all that," Bowers said with a grin.  "You form bonds with the guys you work with.  As long as you're working with honest people, it's honorable work, no matter what you're doing."

Stepping up to the plate is nothing new for the sandy-blonde haired Marine.

"He's always looking for work to do, I wish I had a whole platoon of guys just like Bowers," said Gunnery Sgt. Mark A. Massey, Company G's company gunnery sergeant, from Lansing, N.C.  "He's got more respect for people, both high and low ranking, than I've ever seen anywhere else.  He's an outstanding human being."

"In the future, I envision Bowers retiring to his front porch, sipping on a mint julep as the sun sets in the distance," Shaw said.  "He's going to go far in his life no matter what he does, it's his nature."

It's likely that ring will be with him the entire way.