Soldier reaches top of his class

CONYERS -- An elevator mechanic in his civilian profession, Spc. James Bowles of the 48th Infantry Brigade rose to the top of his class when he was named Georgia National Guard Soldier of the Year.

Bowles is serving in his first tour of duty in Afghanistan, but earlier this year he competed against hundreds of other National Guardsmen for the honor.

His parents, David and Donna Bowles of Conyers, said they were proud of him when he signed up for the Army after graduating high school -- his father served as a Marine during the Vietnam War.

"We're concerned that he's over there in Afghanistan, but we're proud that he's serving his country," Donna Bowles said.

Bowles will be recognized today during the Veterans Day ceremonies at the American Legion, Post 77, at 11 a.m. Zeste Debro, Post 77 sergeant-at-arms, said the Legion will place an American flag out in his honor and display the Soldier of the Year award this month as part of Post 77's "Heroes of the Month" program.

The competition for National Guardsman of the Year involved several skills and physical endurance tests. It was Bowles' first attempt, and said his fellow soldiers were tough, but they also supported each other during the competition.

"We drove each other intensely to give our very best, but also looked out for one another," Bowles said after receiving the award at the 48th Infantry Brigade Combat Team's Infantry Ball in May. "That's what soldiers do, and I'm proud to have competed with them and against them."

Bowles has served as a Georgia National Guardsman for six years and is married. He is a member of Local 32 of the International Union of Elevator Constructors and is employed by Schindler Elevator Corp.

He and his wife, Crystal, live in Dunwoody.