Bluffton teen with failing eyesight gets surprise tour of Marine Corps Air Station

dlauderdale@islandpacket.comMarch 10, 2013 

130215-M-NT332-156

Charlie Bowers, center, an 18-year-old senior from Bluffton High School, watches as F-18 Hornets from Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 115 takeoff and land at the Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort.

LANCE CPL. SARAH CHERRY — Submitted photo

Thanks to the Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort for sharing the story of a special guest last month.

'LIVING THE DREAM'

Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort helped a Bluffton High School senior experience his dream -- before it becomes impossible.

Eighteen-year-old Charlie Bowers got a tour of MCAS Beaufort, Feb. 15, and had no idea about the surprise tour until he got to the air station.

Charlie has a degenerative disease called Stargardt's disease, which is causing him to slowly go blind by destroying the part of the eye called the macula.

"Usually macular degeneration comes out in your 60s and 70s," said Charlie. "Stargardt's is the younger version of that."

Charlie has blind spots in the center of his eyes, and they're getting bigger. As time progresses, he will have to rely more and more on his peripheral vision. He has already started learning Braille and how to use a walking stick, although he doesn't need those skills yet.

"I can do the same things as the next guy, I just have to do it a little bit differently and it takes a little bit longer," said Charlie.

Lt. Col. Sean DeWolfe, operations officer for Marine Aircraft Group 31, led Charlie, his parents and his younger sister Rebecca on a tour of the base. The family had the opportunity to see F-18 Hornets in the hangar, ask questions and learn about the parts of the plane and landing procedures.

They were able to watch jets take off from the flight line, and Charlie and Rebecca even got to take the flight simulator on a test run. While he was in the flight simulator, Charlie wore a MAG-31 flight suit that bore his last name on the black and gold nametape.

Charlie said he liked that he was able to get "up close and personal" with an F-18 engine that was being changed out in the Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 115 hangar.

"My impression of Charlie is that he really represents the youth of today," said DeWolfe. "I think serving others is in his DNA. He wanted to serve in the military, and now that he can't do that, he's found another avenue, another way to continue to serve. When I first met Charlie today, he was pretty reserved. By the time he got into the simulator and started to 'fly,' he had a smile he couldn't wipe off of his face."

Charlie's parents said that despite Charlie's level-headedness about it, they were dismayed that their son wouldn't be able to follow his dream.

"He always wanted to fly, and he always wanted to be in the military," said his mom, Debbie Bowers. "As we learned about his disease, it became evident that there was no way he was going to be able to fly. He kept turning it around and he decided, maybe I'll just build them."

Charlie is still following his aviation ambition, but from a different angle. He has been accepted to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University with plans to become an aerospace propulsion engineer.

Charlie said flight has been a lifelong interest, and his favorite part of the tour of was the flight simulator.

"It was nice to sit in there and do something that I'll never actually be able to do, but have the experience of having done it," said Charlie. "I've always been fascinated with aviation, with flight in general."

Rebecca said, "It was extremely important for me to see my brother live his dream. It makes me proud of him that he's come this far, I'm happy to see him happy."

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