At 4:30 a.m. Saturday, a tough and hard Army National Guard soldier with two Afghanistan tours under his ample belt was stationed at Exit 48 on Interstate 77.
Sgt. 1st Class Randy Jowers and other soldiers from the 178th Combat Engineer battalion were pulling trucks and cars out of ditches and from the sides of the icy road during the winter storm.
“I was proud to help people,” the 55-year-old said.
While Jowers was out helping strangers, his house burned down. Everything in it, gone.
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Jenifer Jowers saw smoke first in the bedroom, then in other parts of the house she shared with her husband on Joseph Court south of Rock Hill. After trying in vain to put out the fire, she called 911. When she told a dispatcher that there was a gun safe with ammunition in the house, she was told to get out as fast as she could.
“I got the two dogs out and got out in a robe,” Jenifer Jowers said.
Bethesda Fire Department volunteers responded, but the house could not be saved. The fire was ruled accidental Tuesday, officials from the York County Fire Marshal’s Office said.
The couple has insurance, but they lost all their possessions – clothes, mementos and more.
An irreplaceable copper bowl from Afghanistan, ruined. A brass water pot and figurines from the place where Jowers twice fought a war, gone.
The Bible he carried to Afghanistan to get him through the worst of days, burned up.
Randy Jowers might be familiar to some in Rock Hill. The Herald wrote about him in 2013 when bureaucrats tried to fine him $50 for expired vehicle tags while he was fighting in Afghanistan. He was in the paper when the National Guard took equipment and vehicles to school events. He helped escort the World Trade Center beam into York County in 2011.
Jowers never says no when asked to help others. He is a tough burly guy with a lined face. Some say he looks like William Shatner, his wife says, while others think he favors John Wayne.
But not even Captain Kirk or The Duke had to deal with a house fire after saving the galaxy from Klingons or the town from rustlers.
Jowers is a full-time guardsman, working as an inspector of vehicles out of the armory near Spartanburg after years at the Rock Hill armory motor pool maintenance shop. He has another house southeast of Rock Hill where he and his wife can move to, after a temporary stay with Jenifer’s parents.
“Right now, it’s hard to say what we need, because we don’t have anything,” Jowers said. “Or a place to put it.”
When those who served with Jowers in Afghanistan found out about the fire, they rushed to help. Chief Warrant Officer Colin Pressley at the Rock Hill armory shop said “the hat will be passed” and soldiers will donate.
“Whatever he needs, we will take care of it,” Pressley said.
York County Veterans Affairs officer Joe Medlin, who served with Jowers in Afghanistan and at the 178th, has coordinated clothing vouchers and other services. People who know the Jowers from church or riding motorcycles have helped. The American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars posts have stepped up to collect donations.
“As soon as we heard about one of our members’ having a fire where he lost everything, we started to act,” said Amber Clark, commander of VFW Post 2889 in Rock Hill and a combat veteran herself. “This is what we are here for – to help each other and the community when they need us.”
Jowers has received countless calls and Facebook messages from people offering to help, and he appreciates all of it from military people he considers his family.
“People have been great,” he said.
When the call came Saturday, Jowers did not give a second thought to leaving for guard duty. He still would go when people in South Carolina or his country need him, be it a storm or a war.
On Tuesday, Jowers grabbed a shovel and sifted through the debris. He found some jewelry he brought back from Afghanistan, but not much else survived the fire.
“We will get through this,” he vowed. “I have been through worse.”
A fire took his house, but not his faith or his sense of duty.
Andrew Dys: 803-329-4065
Want to help?
▪ VFW Post 2889, 732 W. Main St., Rock Hill, is collecting donations for Randy and Jenifer Jowers. Donations can be made 11 a.m.-9 p.m. daily. For information, call the VFW at 803-327-2975.
▪ A Go Fund Me webpage has been set up to help the Jowers family. Go to gofundme.com and search for Randy Jowers New Home Fund.