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Becoming a Marine was easy for Bowers after learning life ...

July 03, 2008|By BOB PARASILITI

Mike Bowers took advantage of some basic training to get ready for basic training.

Like all stories, this one has a beginning and an end. For Bowers, the beginning was playing youth and high school sports in Hagerstown. The end? The training and his beliefs that made him a Marine major at the age of 34.

It's a career of a lifetime.

"Once a Marine, always a Marine," Bowers said.

Bowers links his life and times in the Marine Corps directly to his childhood days of learning to play sports.

He watched the big picture of what was happening around him. It wasn't only about playing a game. It was learning to play those games well and drawing from the people - the coaches - who were teaching those disciplines.

"I'm convinced that high school sports gave me the confidence and the discipline to choose to join the Marine Corps," Bowers said. "The Corps isn't easy, but sports also gave me the confidence to choose the schools I wanted to attend and the assignments I wanted to have.

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"You become a Marine for the challenge. It takes a lot of selflessness. That was something I saw in the coaches. They gave so much of themselves and their time. You see the sacrifices they made in time with their families to make the program strong. It gets to you and then you are ready to go on to the next challenge."

Bowers found sports at a young age. He played for the Hagerstown Browns in junior football and was a member of West End Little League, playing for Moose. He played for Moose at Hagerstown PONY League and Henson & Sons as a Colt.

"Playing at West End I'm very proud of that," Bowers said.

The next step was playing football and baseball at North Hagerstown under coaches Glenn Cross and the late Chuck Zonis before graduating in 1991. He played fullback and linebacker on the Hubs' 1990 playoff team and center field for the North baseball team that won the state title in his sophomore year.

The whole experience gave him the foundation of beliefs he now cherishes.

"In high school, it's more intense. You have to take the time to prepare yourself to compete," Bowers said. "You have to go through the hard practices to get ready. Coach Cross and Coach Zonis worked us hard and they expected intensity and enthusiasm. They wouldn't accept anything else."

After graduating, Bowers went to play baseball at Bridgewater (Va.) College but decided to quit after his freshman year to concentrate on his education. He graduated summa cum laude from Bridgewater.

That's when he decided to join the Marines.

"I played a lot as a freshman," he said. "I was carrying a 4.0 grade point average, but I wanted to keep up with my studies. It was my calling."

Bowers was introduced to the Marines at a young age. His uncle served in the Corps and is now buried at Arlington National Cemetery. He joined the service in 1994, was commissioned out of basic training in 1995 and applied for officer training.

Now, 14 years later, he is a Major. He is part of the 5th ANGLICO Division in Okinawa, Japan, and has been deployed multiple times to Korea and Iraq. He served in three of the four Marine divisions and has been a company commander, serving as a supervisor for boot camp training. He is now in the United States to take classes, preparing to work in Washington.

Through it all, Bowers points back to his time at North Hagerstown.

"There are a lot of lessons there that most athletes leave school with," Bowers said. "There is fitting in on a team, the conditioning it takes to get your mind and body ready to play, the organization and discipline it takes to be a success because it prepares you to be ready for anything and all the sacrifice it takes to be successful. You have to train harder to be better."

The preseason practices, in a sense, helped prepare Bowers for his basic training, sharpening his ability to be prepared for anything.

Some could say it has helped him stay alive.

"In baseball, you are at the plate, looking for a fastball and the pitcher throws you a curve," Bowers said. "In football, you're a linebacker and you keep expecting to have the other team run off tackle and suddenly they decide to sweep. You have to be able to take on the situation. That is the biggest lesson that helps me today.

"Sports taught me that your opponent is an independent thinking being that doesn't always do what you think. You have to have the ability predict and anticipate what they might do. What I learned in high school sports is what helps me when I'm walking the streets in a dangerous city in combat. You have to be ready for anything because that person is out to kill you. You have to be ready for anything and be more prepared to win."

Bowers said he drew from that while he was deployed to Ramadi, Iraq - considered the most dangerous city in the world and referred to as the "Heart of Darkness" - with his ANGLICO division. He was in charge of 15 members of an elite assault team assigned to clear insurgents from the city.

"That's when you reflect on your lessons and are thankful for high school sports. For a lack of a better way to put it, it's all follow through," Bowers said. "Coaches taught us to go in and follow through. Athletes love the competition and the camaraderie. In the Marines, it is team and the challenge. "

Through his reflection, it's obvious that Bowers is satisfied with where life has taken him. His route isn't as conventional as it has been for some, but it has been fulfilling.

"I'm proud to be a student-athlete in a community that has the sacrifice and dedication of all the coaches who gave me the confidence to be in the Marine Corps," Bowers said. "My years in the Marines have given me an entirely different perspective of life. This is what I do, but it is what this country deserves."

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