Staff Photo: John Bohn Marine Corps Sergeant Corey Bowen, center, and his immediate and extended family pose for a photograph with Al Roker, at a Lawrenceville home given to Sgt. Bowen as part of Operation Inspiration. Sgt. Bowen suffers from injuries sustained during active duty, including two tours of duty in Iraq and one tour in Afghanistan. He and his wife Detrese, have four children. A reality television production documented the event.
LAWRENCEVILLE -- What could be more shocking than learning you're getting a free house?
How about finding a smiling Al Roker standing in the driveway.
That's who the Bowen Family saw Monday as their Ford SUV turned down Appleton Circle in Lawrenceville.
Clad in a flashy blue blazer, Roker watched as the family arrived for the first time at their new home in suburban Gwinnett County. With looks of curiosity, the Bowens emerged from the vehicle -- their children contemplating the TV talking head and a cluster of dozens huddled beneath a single shade tree in the front yard.
The gathering of neighbors, volunteers and media were all there to see the look on Marine Corps Sgt. Corey Bowen's face as charitable organizations handed over the keys to his new home: a 2,200-square-foot, four bedroom residence complete with new furniture and kitchen shelves already stocked with food.
As they stepped through the front door, Bowen and his family -- wife, Detrese, son, Caihu, 11, and daughters, Delonnie, 7, Dayla, 4 and Dayjoniea, 17 -- scanned their new abode, eyes wide. Smiles crept across their faces.
That's the moment that Retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Brian Arnold said he lives for.
"It's all about seeing that look on their faces," said Arnold, who also serves on the volunteer board of directors for Operation Homefront, a nonprofit organization that provides financial and other assistance to the families of service members and wounded warriors.
While on active duty -- including tours in Iraq and Afghanistan -- Bowen suffered multiple severe spine and hip injuries. According to a news release from the organization, Bowen's wife "has been forced to leave her job to manage his medical care. Thanks to support from Operation Homefront, Bowen is learning new job skills, and the family is now back on track."
Others who were a part of Operation Inspiration: Wells Fargo and Eckrich. The event was also filmed for inclusion in an upcoming half-hour special "Operation Inspiration" that will air at 7:30 p.m. June 29 on NBC.
As part of the campaign, the organizations raised money to furnish the home as well as renovate it. Other homes in Gwinnett County donated recently through Operation Homefront have included Army Sgt. Mike Vanscoy's 3,000 square-foot home in Buford; Army Specialist Joe Wallace's 2,300 square-foot Lawrenceville residence; and Army Specialist Chris White's 2,100 square-foot Norcross home.
Neighbors on Appleton Circle said the residence, which had been foreclosed on more than a year ago, is looking way better than it used to.
"We're really excited," said Shelly Sims, who has lived on the street more than 20 years. "We were glad somebody was going to be finally moving in, but to find out it was something this special, that's even better."
Sims and fellow neighbor Susan Wagner sat on lawn chairs across the street, watching the spectacle with Wagner's dogs, Ginger and Fred.
"It seems like a good program," Wagner said.
"I'm overjoyed right now," he said, standing in the sunlight, sneakers planted firm in the green grass of his new front yard. "It's hard to describe how this feels. But it's much appreciated. We're so thankful."
As he spoke, a black Cadillac backed down the driveway beside the Bowen family's Ford SUV. Roker made his exit: shaking hands with each member of the family, clapping members of the media on the back and smiling at the volunteers who lingered beneath the shade tree.
The "Today Show" weather anchor said he was glad to be there to take the family on a tour through the new home.
"It was a good opportunity," said Roker, walking toward the Cadillac. "We want to give military families and service members the respect they deserve. That's why this effort is so important."