VIDEO: Hamilton KinardVideo by Mark Swendra. Edited by Lawrence Dorsey
EDITOR'S NOTE: This profile of an area veteran is part of a series of articles titled "Those Who Served," appearing monthly in the Courier. If you know a veteran who should be included in this series, please e-mail the reporter.
It wasn’t until nearly two years into their marriage before Britnee Kinard had a better understanding of what her husband, Hamilton, witnessed during his time in Iraq with the 1st Battalion, 178th Field Artillery of the South Carolina National Guard.
Hamilton, who was deployed in June 2004, was part of a military police unit and conducted convoy security, traveling thousands of miles on what he called “the most dangerous roads in Iraq” — often in 100-plus-degree heat.
In March 2005, after being exposed to 13 improvised explosive devices (IEDs), Kinard’s unit took a direct hit. He was left unconscious for three days at Baghdad International Airport in a makeshift medical tent.
When he awoke, he was immediately diagnosed with traumatic brain injury and bi-lateral hearing loss. Kinard was ordered to continue his mission, and was given self-injectable Imitrex shots for his migraines.
He did not come home until October 2005.
Since his arrival home, Kinard has been diagnosed with more than 40 injuries including, but not limited to, post-traumatic stress disorder, obliterative bronchiolitis from inhaling chemical fumes, renal failure syndrome, cervical, thoracic, and lumbar neuritis and radiculopathy, and degenerative disc disease.
Kinard was medically and honorably discharged in September 2010, retiring with the rank of E-5, and ending a 20-year career in the Army and National Guard.
Despite the obvious physical injuries to her husband, Britnee Kinard didn’t quite grasp his mental anguish. That changed when she came across some photographs that Hamilton had kept that were part of his military job. They were graphic images of bombing victims, in what the military calls “identification after destruction.”
Britnee Kinard was horrified seeing those, and Hamilton was embarrassed. He had hoped that his wife would never have to see what he did.
He was worried about the judgment he might get if he told people what truly went on in Iraq, he said. He would often tell jokes and be someone who came off as jovial in order to cover up his pain.
Although friends and family show love and empathy, Kinard says he struggles with determining how much of his Iraq experience to talk about. On the one hand, he wishes to share his story, but realizes that unless someone was there, and lived what he did, they’re not going to fully understand.
“Should I tell them about this?” he asked, “Or should I tone it down?”
Britnee Kinard says “All veterans become good at hiding their disabilities.”
Hamilton added, “Because they don’t want to be judged.”
Kinard joined the Army in 1989, following in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps by wanting to serve his country. He grew up in Charleston, SC, and had an interest in fire and rescue, having spent time “hanging out” at local fire departments since age 13, he said.
Remembering how he felt the first time he wore an Army uniform, Kinard said “I stood tall and had my chest out.”
During his military career, Kinard was awarded The Purple Heart, Combat Action Badge, Global War on Terrorism medal, Operation Iraqi Freedom medal, and multiple Army commendation medals.
Upon returning to civilian life, Kinard met his wife-to-be at a chiropractic office in Columbia, SC, where he had been working as a rehabilitation massage therapist. The couple married in 2010 and have two boys, Blayne, 7, and Maks, 5.
Since 2016, they have made their home in Richmond Hill.
Kinard also has a service dog named Gunner, a white 125-pound great Pyrenees, that joined the family in June 2013, and serves as his mobility service animal.
For being a large animal, Gunner is extremely gentle, and is the ultimate (albeit oversized) lap dog.
“He is my child that listens. He is concerned about me when I’m having a bad day,” Kinard said.
In 2014, the Kinards founded the SD Gunner Fund, which provides financial assistance to wounded veterans and special needs children who wish to obtain or maintain service animals.
At age 47, Kinard does his best today to stay active, but the PTSD and physical injuries make it tough.
Like other Operation Iraqi Freedom veterans, the sounds of fireworks may trigger fears of gunfire, and the occurrence of IEDs and snipers experienced overseas still remain in their head.
“I look at trash bags on the side of the road. I change lanes under a bridge,” he said, referring to situations in Iraq that were associated with danger.
“A fair amount of my time and focus is spent on situational awareness,” he added. “It’s mentally draining when you can’t turn it off.”
He’s always been good with woodworking and other things done with his hands, but that is difficult now because his hands shake, his limbs are numb and his back hurts.
But Kinard says, don’t pity him.
“He signed up to protect us and our rights,” Britnee Kinard added. “And now it’s my job to help him.”