The Gold Valor Award is the highest honor that can be bestowed on a JROTC or ROTC cadet, and on June 28, Henry E. Lackey High School graduate Kayla Bowman received one.
Bowman, who graduated on June 1, came to the aid of an injured driver following a car accident that injured Bowman, her younger brother and mother in March.
March 13 was shaping up to be an epic one for Bowman. Earlier that day, as a member of Lackey’s elite girls track team, Bowman and her teammates were honored by the Board of Education and the Charles County Commissioners for winning state titles. After that, she was headed to Lackey where students, their families and others were celebrating a Winter Sports Awards night during which Bowman and the track team would be lauded. “I was excited,” Bowman said. “I’ve been doing track since middle school and we accomplished this. We are track champions.”
She was in such a good mood, she let her brother ride shotgun in the front seat, while she sat in the back. Bowman’s mother, Diana, was driving and waiting to turn into Lackey when she looked in the rearview mirror and saw a car barreling toward them from behind. The other vehicle hit the back of the family’s truck.
After checking on her brother and mother, who suffered bruised ribs, Bowman leapt from the car. Hunter Burch, a sophomore who Bowman was unfamiliar with — “He’s a sophomore, I’m a senior,” Bowman said — was heading to the crash where he pulled the injured driver from the wreckage that was on fire. Bowman guided the woman farther away from the crash to ensure she was out of harm’s way.
Bowman and Burch are no strangers to tragedy. Burch lost his father in a car crash in October 2017; Bowman’s stepfather died from a gunshot wound in December 2017. But neither Bowman or Burch boasted about their actions of March 13, both explaining it away as doing what people do. People help people.
It was something Bowman learned in JROTC. She became interested in the program in middle school and joined in high school, first at La Plata High School, then Lackey. “ROTC forced me to have discipline,” Bowman said. “You have to work with others and that has helped me in life.”
When retired U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Robert Castellano, an JROTC instructor, heard of the cadet’s actions, he thought they were worthy of recognition. “The Gold Valor Award is the highest award in JROTC. The criterion is simple: You risk your life to save somebody else’s life,” Castellano said. “When I heard about what [Bowman and Burch] did, I got goosebumps.”
The award is rarely bestowed, and Bowman’s is the first to be given in Charles County. “It’s something I’m sure I’ll never do again in my career,” Castellano said.
Lackey Principal Kathy Perriello said Bowman personifies the school’s GREAT philosophy of Growth, Relationships, Excellence, Accountability and Teamwork. When Perriello asked Bowman about the accident, she said, “That’s what we do,” Perriello recalled. “That’s what we should do as people.”
Barbara Bowman was with her granddaughter when she received the Gold Valor Award. “It’s amazing what this little girl has accomplished in her young life,” Barbara Bowman said. “She doesn’t let anything stop her.”
Bowman will likely enlist in the military where she wants to be in law enforcement or nursing. “I don’t want my time to go to waste,” she said. “I always felt I need to help others.”
Charles County Public Schools provides 26,900 students in grades prekindergarten through 12 with an academically challenging education. Located in Southern Maryland, Charles County Public Schools has 36 schools that offer a technologically advanced, progressive and high quality education that builds character, equips for leadership and prepares students for life, careers and higher education.
The Charles County public school system does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, age or disability in its programs, activities or employment practices. For inquiries, please contact Patricia Vaira, Title IX/ADA/Section 504 Coordinator (students) or Nikial M. Majors, Title IX/ADA/Section 504 coordinator (employees/ adults), at Charles County Public Schools, Jesse L. Starkey Administration Building, P.O. Box 2770, La Plata, MD 20646; 301-932-6610/301-870-3814. For special accommodations call 301-934-7230 or TDD 1-800-735-2258 two weeks prior to the event.