The SD Gunner Fund - with assistance from Evans County Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 7357, Pilot Club of Evans County and American Legion Post 60 Evans County - is hosting the first Military Appreciation Day and Information Fair on Saturday
The free event, which is open to the public, is scheduled for 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at the Evans County Wildlife Club, 4 N. Duval St. in Claxton.
It features games, demonstrations, music and refreshment and is designed to show appreciation to military men and women and their families.
Event organizer Britnee Kinard has a special reason for supporting the military: her husband, Hamilton, who joined the military in 1989, following in the footsteps of his father and both grandfathers.
For almost 10 years, Britnee Kinard has worked tirelessly to help her husband get the help and benefits he needs as a disabled veteran.
Six years after joining, Sgt. Douglas Hamilton Kinard Jr. served as the gunner for his Humvee when an improvised explosive device detonated, ejecting him. Seconds later, the heavy weapon formerly attached to the exploded vehicle crashed onto his head and chest.
An unconscious Kinard spent three days in the hospital and was diagnosed with traumatic brain injury and hearing loss, but was soon back on the road with his unit doing convoy security.
He came home seven months later in October 2005, and filed a claim with the Department of Veterans Affairs for assistance. No longer on active duty, Kinard worked as a massage therapist and with the National Guard.
Britnee Kinard said that not much was known at that time about the extent of traumatic brain injuries and, over the next few years, his headaches worsened, and pain in his hips and lower back increased.
Still, nothing was resolved with his VA claim.
"When he was med-boarded out of the Army in 2010, which means they said he could no longer do his job, I got involved," she said. "I walked into the office (in Fort Jackson, South Carolina) and said, 'You can arrest me if you want, but I'm not leaving here until I get some answers.'"
She explained to someone in the Army's Medical Evaluation Board that he had had an open claim with the VA since 2005.
Still, no decision was made about her husband's disabilities until December 2012.
It was during that time when Sgt. Kinard began showing some signs of short-term memory loss.
"He would leave cash on the counter at the bank; he couldn't remember the kids' birthdays," Britnee Kinard said.
Five days spent at the War Related Illness and Injury Study Center showed complete nerve damage in addition to the traumatic brain injury.
"There's nothing to fix nerve damage," she said. "Some days, he looks normal, walks upright. But, some days, his legs don't work; he can't feel parts of his face. It's unpredictable."
With that diagnosis, Kinard realized she needed even more help with her 6-foot-2, 250-pound husband and started looking into a service dog, specifically a mobility service animal.
Again, she needed resistance from the VA. Thus began another battle.
"I don't like to be told no," Britnee Kinard admitted with a slight chuckle.
But she also admitted her knowledge of service animal approval since 2006 by the VA.
The Kinards spent their own money to purchase a service dog, aptly named Gunner, in June 2013. More than 15 months later, the VA approved their request for the dog and refunded some of their out-of-pocket expenses.
Just before getting their four-legged assistant, the Kinards' son, then 3, was diagnosed with Autistic Spectrum Disorder, Sensory Processing Disorder, Mixed Receptive/Expressive Language Disorder and has Stephens-Johnson Syndrome.
In addition to Gunner's training to help with Sgt. Kinard, the service dog is trained to help with and search for her son, Blayne, if necessary.
The Kinards decided to start a nonprofit assistance program to benefit others in situations similar to theirs. They call their organization the SD Gunner Fund.
"I don't want anybody else to go through this. That's why I do all that I do," Britnee Kinard said.
The SD Gunner Fund provides financial assistance to veterans and children who currently have, or need, service animals, often providing money for veterinarian care or needed mobility harnesses.
Kinard joined forces with the local VFW, Pilot Club and American Legion to host the event.
She said of non-profit organizations, "If we all work together, we'll all make it together."