Mark Russell McDowell – Captain, United States Air Force


U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)
News Release

July 19, 2009

DoD Identifies Air Force Casualties

The Department of Defense announced today the deaths of two airmen who were supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.  They died July 17, 2009, in a F-15E crash near Ghazni Province, Afghanistan.

Killed were:

  • Captain Thomas J. Gramith, 27, of Eagan, Minnesota.  He was assigned to the 336th Fighter Squadron, Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina.
  • Captain Mark R. McDowell, 26, of Colorado Springs, Colorado.  He was assigned to the 336th Fighter Squadron, Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina.

20 July 2009:

SEYMOUR JOHNSON AIR FORCE BASE, NORTH CAROLINA — A Charlotte native was among  two Seymour Johnson Air Force Base-based officers killed when an F-15E Strike Eagle fighter jet crashed in Afghanistan Friday.

Captain Thomas J. Gramith, 27, of Eagan, Minnesota, and Captain Mark R. McDowell, 26, of Colorado Springs, Colorado, died in the crash, military officials said. They had been flying for several hours, providing air support to ground troops in the Ghazni Province when their plane went down around 3:15 a.m. in Kabul, Afghanistan.


Both men were assigned to the 336th Fighter Squadron, which deployed in April for a four-month tour of duty.

“This is a very deep personal loss that we’ve taken. These are our neighbors, our friends, our coworkers,” said Colonel Mark Kelly, 4th Fighter Wing commander, Seymour Johnson Air Force Base.

McDowell is a native of Charlotte and attended the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. He leaves behind his father in Adamsville, mother in Clemson, South Carolina, and grandparents in Sanford.

His wife is also in the Air Force, serving on a deployment to Iraq. The couple would have been married for two years this Thanksgiving.

Gilbert McDowell, a pastor in Sanford, said he was proud of his grandson, because everywhere he was stationed, he joined a church and taught Sunday school.

Kelly said thousands of North Carolina-based soldiers were among the ground troops McDowell and Gramith were supporting.

“We have literally thousands of Marines from Camp Lejeune just down the road that are dispersed across the Helman province, down south. We have thousands and thousands of soldiers from Fort Bragg that are operating in the east, so this is a very deep North Carolina protection event,” Kelly said.

The cause of the crash hasn’t been released, but military officials have said it was from non-hostile action. F-15s fly in pairs, so another jet was alongside the plane during the crash.

A board of officers in Afghanistan is investigating the crash, military officials said. A safety investigation normally takes 30 to 45 days, but since this crash happened in a combat zone, the investigation is expected to take longer.

The U.S. military hasn’t released more information about the crash, but Afghan authorities told The Associated Press that the plane went down in the Nawur district of Ghazni province in central Afghanistan, a peaceful area populated by the ethnic Hazara minority.

Mohammed Qasim Naziri, the deputy district chief, said the crash site was between two villages in a desert surrounded by mountains about 20 miles south of the town of Nawur. Kelly described the terrain as unforgiving.

He said local people notified police of the crash, but by the time authorities reached the site, U.S. troops had surrounded the area and barred Afghan authorities from approaching the wreckage.

The last similar accident involving Seymour Johnson aircraft was on April 7, 2003.

The bodies of Gramith and McDowell were flown to Dover Air Force Base in Dover, Delaware, Sunday.

21 July 2009:

McADENVILLE, North Carolina — The Air Force officers wore somber expressions and crisp dress uniforms. Stan McDowell knew they were coming.

Airmen arrived at Stan and Karen McDowell’s home Saturday morning to tell them their son, a fighter jet pilot, had died in a Friday plane crash over Afghanistan. The visit wasn’t unexpected — they had learned of their loss in a 2:30 a.m. phone call.

“We already knew about it, but it was still kind of a shock,” Stan McDowell said. “It was just like in the movies. It’s just hard to believe it was happening to us.”

Air Force Captain Mark McDowell, 26, was killed when his F-15E Strike Eagle jet went down near Afghanistan’s Ghazni Province. His co-pilot and weapons officer, Captain Thomas H. Granith, 27, also died in the crash. They were assigned to the 336th Fighter Squadron at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in Goldsboro.

Mark McDowell leaves behind a wife, Katie, who is also in the Air Force and is currently deployed to Iraq.

“Their attitude to this military environment and their service was just like Stan getting up and going to work,” Karen McDowell said. “They were married for six months and Katie was deployed, but they handled it well. It was like water off a duck’s back.”

Born in Charlotte, Mark grew up in Huntersville with his father, Stan, and his stepmother, Karen.

He was heavily involved in youth sports and extracurricular activities before attending South Iredell High School, where he played junior varsity and varsity soccer and was on the varsity golf and wrestling teams.

Mark was also involved in North Carolina Youth Government, served as freshman class vice president and was a member of his high school’s Latin Club, Bible Club and Intra-Club Council. He graduated with a 4.25 grade-point average and was appointed to the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Stan McDowell said Mark loved his family and was close to his parents.

“Mark was a son who could talk to me about anything,” he said. “Every dad wants his children to be able to come to him and discuss whatever’s on their mind, and Mark was that child.”

The McDowells supported their son’s dream of becoming a pilot.

“We knew he wanted to go there and fly jets,” Mark’s father said. “He loved it. We were all for it.”

After graduating from the Air Force Academy with an officer’s commission and a degree in physics, Mark spent about a year in Texas for flight training.  He reported to Seymour Johnson AFB and joined the Rocketeers of the 336th Fighter Squadron.

Mark flew the F-15E, a long-range strike fighter that can reach top speeds of more than 1,650 mph and climb 50,000 feet per minute.

“God has a purpose for everybody, and I believe it was God’s purpose for Mark to do this,” his father said. “I never dreamed it would end so abruptly, but I don’t have any regrets. He had a lot of responsibility, and a lot of people relied on him for their life.”

The Air Force officials sent to notify the McDowells of their son’s death traveled with a chaplain and nurse to tend to the couple’s spiritual and physical needs.

“From that time forward, the Air Force provided every available resource,” Karen McDowell said. “All we had to do was put one foot in front of the other.”

On Sunday, the military flew Stan and Karen McDowell to Dover Air Force Base in Dover, Delaware, where Mark’s remains arrived from Afghanistan. Mark’s widow, Katie, boarded the plane carrying her husband’s casket in Iraq.

Air Force Secretary Michael B. Donley, a General from the Pentagon and Mark’s wing commander attended a dignified transfer ceremony on the base tarmac. Mark’s remains were loaded into a transport vehicle and driven to a mortuary — with an honor guard walking smartly behind.

“They treat everything with dignity,” Karen said. “They marched behind that truck until it was out of sight.”

The McDowells plan to lay their son to rest in Arlington National Cemetery. The funeral will likely be postponed until September, when Mark’s unit is scheduled to return from Afghanistan.

Stan and Karen McDowell said their children and fellow parishioners of First Baptist Church in Belmont and Chapman Memorial Baptist in Charlotte have served as pillars of support. A granddaughter, Katie, made black and yellow memorial ribbons bearing Mark’s name.

“I just couldn’t imagine the importance of that kind of support from family and children and friends — the outpouring of love and sorrow,” Stan said.

Mark’s father said he initially dreaded answering the phone, but considerate and consoling friends won him over.

“I went into this thinking, ‘I’m going through this on my own, I don’t want anybody and I don’t want to talk about it, because I can’t talk about it,’ he said. “But, when all these people started coming around on Saturday, it was so beneficial to me. As the day went on, I wanted to answer that phone because I wanted to hear what they had to say.”

Mark was a strong Christian who served the Lord and placed God and family ahead of himself, his parents said.

“I want everyone to know that Mark gave his life to the Lord, and that I know he’s in heaven,” Stan McDowell said. “I know that I’ll be with him one day. Because of that assurance, it helps our grieving.”

21 July 2009:

Family mourns loss of Air Force pilot killed in Afghanistan

SANFORD, North Carolina – As the military continues to investigate the cause of an F-15 E Strike Eagle crash in Afghanistan, the family of 26-year-old Captain Mark McDowell, who was killed in the crash, is mourning his loss.

For Rev. Gilbert McDowell, the sky was always the limit for his grandson, Mark.

“You don’t want to brag on your grandchildren, but he was extremely bright,” McDowell said.

Mark McDowell was the first in his family to join the military. He decided in high school that he wanted to attend the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

“I don’t know why he wanted to be in the Air Force, it was just a feeling,” Gilbert McDowell said. “To me, it was a God-given feeling.”

The retired minister said his grandson loved the Air Force. He also loved his family and would often call his grandparents when he had the chance. The two called each other the night before Mark McDowell deployed to Afghanistan in April and prayed together.

“He said, ‘Granddaddy, don’t you worry about me. They have never shot down one of these planes,'” Gilbert McDowell said. “He was not afraid.”

Mark McDowell was assigned to the 336th Fighter Squadron, which was scheduled to return in a few weeks. Gilbert McDowell got news of the plane’s crash Saturday morning.

He said he had presided over many funerals, including those for servicemen, but he didn’t recall crying during those because he had to put up a brace front. But when he heard about his grandson, he broke down.

“It was different,” McDowell said. “I still can’t believe it. He’s too young to die.”

Mark McDowell was married less than two years to a girl he met when they were both at the Air Force Academy. Both were stationed at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base.

Gilbert McDowell said his grandson’s body is back in the U.S. and he will get a military funeral at Arlington National Cemetery when his unit returns. The retired preacher said he will miss the talks he would have with his grandson, but is very proud he died doing what he loved.

“He’s not the first one and will not be the last one to die to give us the freedom that we have,” he said.

22 July 2009:

MCADENVILLE, North Carolina — A local war hero is mourned after his F-15 crashed in Afghanistan as he was trying to protect our soldiers on the ground.

Stan McDowell holds the pictures of his son Mark. There are baby pictures and Christmas photos and school snapshots.

“This is our baby book,” Stan said. “This is one of my favorites.”

He is holding onto the photos realizing they are all he has of the 26-year-old Air Force pilot. Mark McDowell died July 18th when the F-15 he was piloting went down in Afghanistan. Stan found out through a phone call from his youngest son Joey.

“He was crying uncontrollably. Once he got calmed down, four words were spoken, ‘Mark’s plane went down,’” he said.

Stan prayed that his son, an Air Force Academy graduate, would be alright. He never worried that he was gone. Instead, Stan says he feared his son would be taken by enemies.

“When I got the next call and they said he was pronounced dead…that’s when it hit,” he said.

Mark McDowell was on tour in Afghanistan. The South Iredell County High School graduate was piloting F-15’s. The military has not determined what caused the plane to go down. That may take months. Stan McDowell’s job will take longer.

“There’s no training on what to do when you lose a child,” he said.

Stan McDowell has found comfort in memorials that are being planned for his son. He has spent time with Mark McDowell’s widow, Katie McDowell, also an Air Force Academy graduate, who was on a tour in Iraq when Mark McDowell’s plane went down.

“I know Mark is safe in heaven and one day I’ll be with my son. My son Mark,” he says.

There will be a memorial to honor Mark McDowell on Sunday July 26th at 3 p.m. at First Presbyterian Church in Mooresville. He will be buried in Arlington National Cemetery in October when his squadron returns from Afghanistan.

22 July 2009:

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

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 Captain Mark R. McDowell, 26, and weapons systems officer Captain Thomas J. Gramith, 27, both deployed to Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, from the 4th Fighter Wing at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base. North Carolina.

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.

Family recalls Air Force pilot’s determination
By Celeste Smith
Courtesy of the Charlotte Observer
Wednesday, July 22, 2009

When Mark Russell McDowell set his mind on something, family members say, there was no stopping him.

As an MVP on South Iredell High School’s soccer team, he played his entire senior year in a cast up to his elbow after breaking his left hand. He set his sights early on getting accepted to the U.S. Air Force Academy, telling his mother, Barbara Thomas, he wanted the quality education.

“His father said to me, ‘Don’t believe that,’” Thomas said Tuesday. “‘He’s going to fly.’ I believe all along he wanted to be a fighter pilot. Once he got out there, being in that environment, it solidified that.”

Captain McDowell, 26, was one of two airmen who died Friday in an F-15E crash in Afghanistan, according to the Department of Defense. McDowell and Captain Thomas Gramith, 27, of Eagan, Minnesota, were assigned to the 336th Fighter Squadron at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in Goldsboro.

Thomas said memorial services are being planned for both the Charlotte area and Tamassee, South Carolina, about three hours west of Charlotte, where she lives.

His parents learned of McDowell’s death early Saturday through a phone call from his wife, Katie, an Air Force First Lieutenant stationed in Iraq. Thomas said McDowell died during an active mission, like ones he flew many nights since being in Afghanistan.

On Tuesday, friends and family recalled McDowell as a smart, driven man who made friend and connections easily.

Speaking by telephone from her parents’ home in Fairfax, Virginia, Katie McDowell recalled how she and her husband met at the academy, where McDowell graduated in 2005, and Katie in 2006. They married Thanksgiving weekend in 2007.

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

When Katie McDowell left for Iraq in June, the two kept in touch long distance through phone calls and e-mails, she said.

“He loved flying. He loved being a part of the community that was doing what they’re doing, and just being able to serve.”

McDowell attended Cornelius Elementary in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system, and later Brawley Middle in Mooresville. In eighth grade, he began researching military service, later focusing on the Air Force.

Walt Hitchcock, McDowell’s friend since age 12 through school and soccer, said their parents all became fast friends while traveling for the boys’ soccer competitions. Hitchcock and his family are arranging McDowell’s Charlotte-area service.

“I’ve probably talked to 100 people, and (read) 200 e-mails about different things,” Hitchcock said. “He’ll be truly missed, and I wish we had more people out there like him. … He was just a really driven individual, and wanted to do what was best for himself and his family and serve his country.”

Thomas said the combination of his grades, athletics, and volunteer work that included tutoring not only drew admission to the academy, but a full scholarship he could have used elsewhere.

McDowell is survived by his mother and wife; father Stan McDowell and stepmother Karen; stepfather Bill Thomas; and brothers Joseph McDowell and Bill Thomas, known as B.T.

Thomas said her son will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

“My son died doing what he believed in and what he loved,” said Thomas, her voice breaking. “He served his country with honor and he served his country with pride. And he gave his country everything he had.”

‘His impact will go on forever’
Iredell man who died in Afghanistan when his plane crashed will be buried at Arlington.
By Joe Marusak
Courtesy of the Charlotte Observer
Posted: Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Mark McDowell stood out at South Iredell High School.

He captained the soccer team, maintained a 4.0 average and was voted “Best All Around” by his 2001 senior class.

“Mark had many friends and was so admired for his strong character, sense of humor and his commitment to God,” said Cindy Hitchcock, whose son, Walt, was McDowell’s best friend since childhood.

McDowell went on to become an Air Force Captain. He died July 17, 2009, when the F-15E he was piloting on a mission went down near Ghazni Province in Afghanistan. His weapons officer also died in the crash.

McDowell, 26, will be buried Thursday in Arlington National Cemetery with family, friends and squadron members present.

His wife, Katie, wanted to wait until his squadron was home, said McDowell’s mother, Barbara Thomas. It returned from Afghanistan in September, she said.

McDowell graduated from the Air Force Academy in 2005 with a degree in physics. That’s where he met his wife, who was deployed to Iraq in June and flew with his remains back to Dover Air Force base.

Barbara Thomas is now establishing a foundation in his memory.

A scholarship fund is being set up at South Iredell High School, and a soccer practice field at the school is planned in his name, Hitchcock said. A reading/computer area for the school library is also being discussed, she said.

South Iredell’s soccer team and parents will dedicate a banner to McDowell at a ceremony before the school’s 7 p.m. match against Newton-Conover on October 21, 2009.

“Mark touched a lot of lives, and that’s becoming more and more apparent,” Barbara Thomas said. “Mark didn’t live as long as I’d have liked, but his impact will go on forever.”

Visitation will be from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday at Murphy Funeral Home, 4510 Wilson Blvd. in Arlington, Va. Burial will be at 9 a.m. Thursday.

Arlington National Cemetery Photograph
A caisson carries the casket of Air Force Captain Mark R. McDowell during burial services at Arlington National Cemetery Thursday, October 15, 2009
Katie McDowell
Air Force First Lieutenant Katie McDowell, left, follows the casket of her husband Air Force Captain Mark R. McDowell during burial services at Arlington National Cemetery Thursday, October 15, 2009
Katie McDowell
Air Force First Lieutenant Katie McDowell, widow of Air Force Captain Mark R. McDowell, grieves during burial services at Arlington National Cemetery Thursday, October15, 2009
Katie McDowell
Air Force First Lieutenant Katie McDowell, widow of Air Force Captain Mark R. McDowell, grieves during burial services at Arlington National Cemetery Thursday, October 15, 2009
Katie McDowell, Stan McDowell, Barbara Thomas
Air Force First Lieutenant Katie McDowell, left, the widow of Air Force Captain Mark R. McDowell, sits near his casket during burial services at Arlington National Cemetery Thursday, October 15, 2009.


  • DATE OF BIRTH: 06/03/1983
  • DATE OF DEATH: 07/18/2009

NOTE: Co-mingled remains of Captain Gramith and Captain McDowell were buried in a joint burial service at Arlington National Cemetery on 13 November 2009.





Read our general and most popular articles

Leave a Comment