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Air Force Capt. Mark R. McDowell

Died July 18, 2009 Serving During Operation Enduring Freedom

26, of Colorado Springs, Colo.; assigned to the 336th Fighter Squadron, Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C.; died July 18 in an F-15E crash near Ghazni Province, Afghanistan. Also killed was Capt. Thomas J. Gramith.

F-15E was 1st fighter to crash in Afghanistan

By Bruce Rolfsen

Staff writer

The loss of an F-15E Strike Eagle over the weekend marked the first crash of an Air Force fighter in Afghanistan since the start of Operation Enduring Freedom in October 2001. Both crewmembers died.

The jet was not shot down, according to a statement from the Defense Department released shortly after the crash. The cause is still under investigation.

Killed were pilot Capt. Mark R. McDowell, 26, and weapons systems officer Capt. Thomas J. Gramith, 27, both deployed to Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, from the 4th Fighter Wing at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base. N.C.

The two were flying a close-air support mission over eastern Afghanistan about 3:15 a.m. when the crash occurred, officials said. The government did not say whether the aviators ejected.

The F-15E was the second loss of a deployed fighter from Seymour Johnson since 2001. In April 2003, a jet crashed on a combat mission north of Baghdad, Iraq. Because the crash was considered a combat loss, the Air Force didn’t reveal the specific cause.

McDowell’s grandfather, Gilbert McDowell, told television station WRAL in North Carolina what motivated the captain.

“(Flying) was his life,” the elder McDowell said. “He died doing what he wanted to do. He wanted to fly. He was called to fly ... God called him to be a pilot.”

McDowell was a 2005 class member of the Air Force Academy, where he met his wife, Kate, also an Air Force officer.

Gramith’s hometown was given as Eagan, Minn. No other additional information was provided by the Defense Department.

‘Always good at everything,’ wife recalls

The Associated Press

Mark McDowell was a 4.0 student, the MVP on his high school soccer team and the usual winner in the golf matches he played against his brother.

When he decided he wanted to attend the Air Force Academy, he was accepted and graduated in 2005 with a degree in physics.

“He was always good at everything,” said his wife, Katie. “If we did something, he always learned quickly, or was always better at it than everyone.”

McDowell, 26, of Mooresville, N.C., died July 18 when the F-15 he was piloting went down near Ghazni province, Afghanistan. He was based at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C.

“He loved flying. He loved being a part of the community that was doing what they’re doing,” his wife said.

The couple met while attending the academy. Katie McDowell was deployed to Iraq in June.

Mark McDowell graduated from South Iredell County High School in Statesville, N.C.

He is survived by his wife; stepfather and mother, Bill and Barbara Thomas; father and stepmother, Stan and Karen McDowell; and brothers Joseph McDowell and Bill Thomas.

“He was a great brother. I always looked up to him. He used to push me around a lot, but then I got to be bigger than him,” Joseph McDowell said.

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