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Rosaries are memories

U.S. Air Force Maj. Ronny Bowman, 20th Aerospace Medical Dental Squadron optometry flight commander, poses for a portrait in his office at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., Jan. 22, 2019.

U.S. Air Force Maj. Ronny Bowman, 20th Aerospace Medical Dental Squadron optometry flight commander, poses for a portrait in his office at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., Jan. 22, 2019. Bowman has been on five humanitarian missions with the Air Force, helping over 150 patients a day restore their vision. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kaitlyn Brewer)

SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. -- In a hot, dark room with all the windows sealed inside a rickety building in Belize, an optometrist sweats and struggles to move around in a sticky Airman Battle Uniform as he performs eye exams on local citizens in an effort to tend to as many people as possible within two and half weeks.

Over the course of his Air Force career, Maj. Ronny Bowman, 20th Aerospace Medical Squadron optometry flight commander, has performed two and a half week humanitarian missions in Peru, Belize, Tonga, Alaska and the Philippines.

After every mission there was a lingering taste of sadness in realizing these people might never see a doctor again, Bowman stated.

Bowman, a tall thin man with a wonky smile and calm blue eyes ran his long fingers over his collection of rosaries, which were bringing back memories of why he went on the missions.

“On any given day, we were seeing around 150-200 patients,” said Bowman. “We did not have any days off, as we were trying to get to as many patients as we could.”

Bowman expressed how intriguing it was to get out and see the types of medical care various areas of the world receive.

“There was one man who had gotten a fungal infection and lost an eye already,” said Bowman. “He was seeing us for his remaining eye, which also had a fungal infection. In Tonga there was absolutely no medicine for this man, so we had to get him to another country.”

Bowman said if it was not for their presence, some of these people would not be able to live the lives they do, as some jobs require eyesight. Even people with less severe cases found their life changed with their newfound eyesight.

“There were times, after a mission, I felt so saddened because I would see all these people in these situations; I would start thinking of different ways I could help this person, and then that person. It was just overwhelming,” said Bowman. “It honestly started taking a toll to where I would have to muster up the strength to go on another mission each time an opportunity arrived.”

Bowman said he had his rosaries to remind him of the gratitude of his patients and that he was making a difference.

“Walking out of church, in Alaska, the locals had these gifts of rosary beads for us,” Bowman said. “Every time I go on a mission with the Air Force, it is a little Catholic community.”

Bowman continued on to say he ended up with rosary beads from every country, and hadn’t realized it until he was in Guatemala when a woman begged him to buy beads to feed her family for the next couple of weeks. It occurred to him he was getting rosary beads as a ‘thank you’ everywhere he went.

Ramona Bowman, his wife, said once he started to realize the value in his rosaries, he started to keep them in a jewelry box as opposed to a nightstand drawer.

“When he returns from each mission, his spirits are high,” said Ramona. “He always has many great stories of colleagues working together and many amazing stories of those they treat. He loves to see the smiles on their faces, knowing they are elated to be able to see.”

Ramona said she believes her husband has made a difference in each place he has gone, but also in turn the missions made a difference in him.

“He always seems to come home more humble and focused,” said Ramona. “The one thing that makes him happy and at peace is knowing he can help those in need.”