BEN GHILOUF, Tunisia, May 24 - When he initially joined in 2004, 17-year-old Chris Bowling enlisted in the infantry, wanting to serve his country following the tragedy of 9/11. Nineteen years later, U.S. Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Chris Bowling reflects on how his career took an unexpected turn when his then mentor joined the 3rd Battalion, 54th Security Force Assistance Brigade, and took him with him.
"I fell into it, but I'm super grateful I did.”
With its establishment in 2018, the SFAB offered Bowling the chance to do something completely different from the career he led thus far, with their mission focusing on training, advising, assisting, enabling and accompanying operations with allied and partner nations.
"I like the mission set and the advising piece of it. It differs greatly from the traditional mission unit and what their mission set is."
As a National Guard Soldier, Bowling also exemplifies the citizen soldier, with his work during African Lion 23 being a key element of the U.S. Army multilateral efforts to support and train alongside partner nations. Native to Tallahassee, Florida, he doesn't mind the chance to travel either.
"You work in a small team element [and] go to various places in the entire world, especially being part of the Guard," Bowling said. "We have guys in South America, Africa, Europe, Asia. The opportunities to go anywhere in the world and work with partner forces is very unique and very rewarding."
Currently working as a senior operations advisor attached to the 2nd SFAB in Ben Ghilouf, Tunisia, Bowling has been working with U.S. Africa Command during African Lion 23 to train members of the Tunisian armed forces and enhance their security capabilities. Working closely with the U.S. Army's partners has been memorable for Bowling in more than just the mission sense.
"Working with the Tunisians has been super rewarding from not only a military standpoint, but also a personal standpoint," he said. "Being able to teach them and see the eagerness they have to learn is really refreshing; to be put in that position, to help build them up."
While his career direction may have been unexpected, as Bowling approaches the 20-year-mark and eligibility for retirement in the Army, he is not deterred from continuing to support partners overseas.
"I've done enough to be satisfied with where I'm at," he said, before quickly adding: "But if more opportunities present themself, I'm more than willing to keep going."
Regardless of what his future holds, Bowling stressed that he is satisfied with his time in the service.
"Everybody has different motivations for joining the military; whatever your motivation is, it is one of the most rewarding things you can do. When you look back after a long career, you're like 'it wasn't that bad, and I got more out of it than it took from me.'"
Eighteen nations and approximately 8,000 personnel will participate in African Lion 2023, U.S. Africa Command’s largest annual combined, joint exercise that will take place in multiple African nations to include Tunisia, from May 13 - June 18, 2023