BARKSDALE AFB, La. --
It is June 2007, mid-Monday morning at a retirement ceremony at Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska. Two brothers stand opposite each other. One is Melvin Bowen, retiring from the rank of lieutenant colonel after 23 years of service in the United States Air Force. The other is Lt. Col. Kelvin Bowen, Melvin’s twin brother. Kelvin is there to officiate Melvin’s retirement ceremony.
Four days later, it is a mid-Friday morning, June 2007. At a retirement ceremony at Kirtland AFB, New Mexico, two brothers stand opposite each other yet again. One is Kelvin Bowen, retiring from the rank of lieutenant colonel after 23 years of service in the United States Air Force. The other is newly retired Melvin Bowen, who is there to officiate Kelvin’s retirement ceremony.
The similarities the Bowen brothers share start long before they officiated each other’s retirement ceremonies. For the better part of 40 years, the Bowen brothers have spent more time together than most siblings.
“We shared the same space for nine months, then we were born,” Kelvin joked. “We then shared the same twin bed until the age of 10 when our older brother Blannie went off to college.”
Melvin and Kelvin grew up in the small community of East Arcadia, North Carolina, with their 12 other siblings.
The two went to East Bladen High School in Elizabethtown, North Carolina, where Kelvin was valedictorian in the class of 1980.
“I was not such an overachiever,” Melvin said. “I was just number 10 out of 183.”
Following graduation, the two set off to college together at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, both receiving Air Force ROTC scholarships.
Growing up, the twins were inspired to join the Air Force by two individuals close to them.
“We received two selfless recommendations,” Kelvin said. “One from our older brother, Chief Master Sgt. (Ret) HT Bowen, and our high school Army JROTC instructor, Sgt. 1st Class John Foye.”
“Both saw the potential in us and advocated that we should go into the Air Force after we went to college.”
Throughout college, the Bowen brothers continued the tradition of living together and were roommates through the four years.
Upon graduation in 1984, the two knew that their time together was coming to an end, but the Air Force continued to bring them back together.
“We were commissioned together and we both were selected for B-52 navigator training at Mather AFB, California,” Kelvin said.
“We then drove cross-country to California together where we shared a kitchen in the Bachelor Officers Quarter,” Melvin said.
Following their time at B-52 navigator training, the Bowen brothers then split up. Kelvin stayed at Mather AFB while Melvin went to Blytheville AFB, Arkansas. Later, Kelvin was selected for pilot training, after which he returned to B-52s.
Over a span of 14 years, from 1986 to 2000, the brother’s assignments would overlap, bringing them together six more times.
In November 2000, the Bowen brothers made history when the two became the first set of African American twins in a flying squadron to be promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.
Kelvin and Melvin pinned on the rank in a joint ceremony at Barksdale AFB, Louisiana.
When asked how that made them feel, their response was “humbled.”
“We did not look at it as anything but doing what we were called to do, and doing it well. We are Bowens; Bowens do not brag,” the brothers said.
They both served seven more years in the Air Force until they retired in 2007.
“We came in together, we left together,” they said.
While they only see each other once or twice a year now, their bond remains close.
“We saw enough of each other growing up and throughout our career,” Melvin said. “However we talk on the phone before work and several times throughout the week still.”
The Bowen brothers now live miles apart, as they continue to serve in a new capacity. Kelvin is currently working at Air Force Global Strike Command at Barksdale AFB, while Melvin is working at U.S. Strategic Command at Offutt AFB, Nebraska.
February is Black History Month, a time where we celebrate the achievements of African Americans and recognize the central role they have and continue to play in the history of the United States. The Bowen brothers are just two of many other African-Americans who have contributed to the greater Air Force successes throughout its history.