A local son returned home from a summer of heat and gun battles in Iraq to spend Christmas with his Lake Tahoe family.
Cpl. Chris Bowman, a North Tahoe High School graduate, was able to spend the holiday with his family and friends after returning home from a dusty, eight-month tour of duty in the 130-degree heat of Iraq.
In April, the 26-year-old corporal, along with other troops belonging to the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, left San Diego on the USS Denver, accompanied by the USS Rushmore and the aircraft carrier Bonhomme Richard.
The three naval vessels carried thousands of marines and sailors bound for Kuwait Naval Base, according to Bowman’s mother, Gail Bowman.
“The departure was the most emotionally and patriotically charged event I have ever witness[ed],” Gail Bowman said in an e-mail exchange. “When the ships pulled away with approximately 2,500-plus service men and women, you could hear a pin drop among the crowds on the docks seeing them off.”
Bowman was attached to the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines, located at Combat Outpost Chicago, 15 kilometers northeast of Baghdad in Al Anbar Province, Bowman’s father, Jim Bowman, noted in an e-mail.
Jim Bowman said his son’s unit conducted counterinsurgency operations for 130 days on foot and vehicle patrol to sever insurgent supply routes and access to safe houses.
“We were in skirmishes the whole time,” Chris Bowman said Monday in a phone interview. “The only breaks were in the [outposts] that were pretty safe, with only mortar attacks ” they didn’t have good aim.”
Before his deployment, Bowman believed many of the negative media reports skewed the reality of on-the-ground operations, a view he still holds.
“There is a lot of good going on over there,” he explained. “I was with the surge, [and] since we left, [something] like 75 percent of crime has gone down. Every chance we got we would help build homes and communities.”
Bowman said his most positive experience in Iraq was distributing food to needy people, and giving toys to children.
“[There were] refugees from Fallujah,” Bowman said. “They would come up to a fully armed convoy, [these] little kids. They knew they needed to come to us or not get fed.”
The environment was much different from that in his Tahoe Basin home. One day he marked the thermometer at 132 degrees, and at times he felt like he was “on the moon.” He explained that the desert soils are so light that when trucks passed they would throw up plumes of dust that rose 30 feet in the air.
“The moon dirt is like Colorado snow,” he said. “The dirt will black out the sun.”
They ended combat operations and returned home on the same ship through Perth, Australia, landing in San Diego on Oct. 17, according to the father.
Bowman is within four months of hanging up his uniform for good. He has served in active duty for almost four years. He has not completely ruled out re-enlisting, but has reservations.
“I would, but as far as if I want a family, the Marine Corps doesn’t provide much for that,” he said. “I lived in about 17 countries in four years ” Afghanistan, Japan, Germany…”
The Marine corporal said he will most likely pursue a career in diesel mechanics while living in San Diego, anywhere near the coast.
“Surfing has become quite a hobby,” Bowman said.
His first visit back to the Sierra Nevada was in November for the Thanksgiving holidays, he said. This time around, he managed a day on the slopes with his family and friends.
On leave from his job as a heavy equipment mechanic at Camp Pendleton until today, he waffled about going back so soon.
“[My] family and the area make me want to stay,” he said.