Welcome-home party to provide support for Augusta military families

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Jennifer and Christopher Cowart’s story starts with a motorcycle helmet and a sword tattoo.

Army 2nd Lt. Jennifer Cowart holds up a photo of her husband Sgt. Christopher Cowart and their daughter, Abbygail. Christopher Cowart is deployed with the U.S. Army's 878 Engineer Battalion.  COREY PERRINE/STAFF
COREY PERRINE/STAFF
Army 2nd Lt. Jennifer Cowart holds up a photo of her husband Sgt. Christopher Cowart and their daughter, Abbygail. Christopher Cowart is deployed with the U.S. Army's 878 Engineer Battalion.

“I wound up sitting on his bike before the night was through,” said Jennifer Cowart, who met her future husband in a club four years ago.

But their connection extended beyond a need for speed.

By the time the couple met, both had several years’ experience in the Army National Guard and one tour in Iraq behind them. Both knew from the get-go that their commitment to country would figure large in their relationship, and that prediction has proved true.

“We haven’t spent an anniversary together yet,” said Jennifer Cowart, a second lieutenant who works out of the recruiting office at Augusta State University.

Her husband, who is in Afghanistan, is a sergeant with the 878th Engineer Battalion, one of four groups that will be honored Saturday at a community event held by the local Veterans Affairs hospitals and the Augusta International Raceway Preservation Society. The idea is to bring together the families of soldiers for a fun event, but also give an outlet to share the difficulties of separation, said Robin Brown, the acting spokeswoman for the VA. The event will also serve as a job fair and a place for soldiers to ask questions about benefits.

“We never want the families to think they’re alone,” Brown said.

Both of the Cowarts have been deployed before, but this is the first time Christopher Cowart is away from his daughter, Abbygail, who was 3 months old when he left. Jennifer Cowart talks to him once, sometimes twice, a day by phone, and he can see his sleeping daughter at night through a Web camera.

When she’s awake, Abbygail will kiss the computer screen, Jennifer Cowart said. But she was standoffish at first when she saw her daddy in person during a quick leave in July.

“It took some coaxing, but then she walked to him for the first time,” Jennifer Cowart said.

The short visit was also a preview of the difficulties that lie ahead when he returns home in December. Mother and daughter have a set routine that was upset with Christopher Cowart’s arrival. He had to learn the boundaries his wife had set for Abbygail and overcome a reluctance to discipline her.

“She likes things a certain way,” Jennifer Cowart said of Abbygail, who is 14 months old. “So I had to teach him things she was used to doing.”

It’s those kind of challenges that organizers hope will come up in conversation Saturday. The event will also feature vintage cars, race cars, inflatable houses for kids, and live entertainment for families of the 319 Transportation Company, 1221 Route Clearing Company and U.S. Navy Operation Support Center.

Jennifer Cowart said this will likely be her husband’s last deployment, but she has a deployment to Afghanistan on the horizon.

“We just roll through the punches and see each other as much as possible,” she said.

IF YOU GO

WHAT: Welcome home party put on by the Veterans Affairs hospitals and the Augusta International Raceway Preservation Society

WHEN: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday

WHERE: Diamond Lake Regional Park, Hephzibah

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