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Horses, houses help with soldiers' recovery
Fundraisers Saturday support programs
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Disabled veteran Kraig Gates mounts Diamonds at Faith Equestrian Therapeutic Center in Effingham County. - photo by Photo provided.
Two separate charitable events tomorrow will be held to help improve the lives of veterans here at home. One group pairs therapy horses with injured soldiers; the other seeks to build a home for a wounded warrior.
Horses for Heroes will sell Boston butts and barbecue chicken dinners from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday at Brookstone Community Church located at 604 Goshen Road in Rincon. Several therapeutic horses will be on hand, along with “Rolling Thunder,” a VW Bug decorated with the names of fallen soldiers at the “Grab Your Butt” event. Whole Boston butts cost $20, barbecue dinners are $7. To pre-order butts, call Lee Ann Marrie at 912-596-5673.
Marrie says she has witnessed how riding and grooming horses calms and helps heal wounded warriors’ mental and physical afflictions. Marrie, director for the Faith Equestrian Therapeutic Center Horses
for Heroes Program, hopes to raise donations to get the local nonprofit therapy program off the ground. The faith-based equestrian therapeutic center, which has catered to disabled children for several years, is located in Effingham County, near Guyton.
“I have a rider who has a traumatic brain injury and I have a Vietnam vet with 100 percent post traumatic stress disorder,” Marrie said. “Our program started out four years ago for handicapped children.”
Marrie said the center is accredited by the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association, and therefore follows NARHA safety standards and guidelines.
“NARHA developed a program just for veterans in 2006,” she said. “I think there are only 31 or 32 centers in the country that offer this program.”
Marrie said the only other Horses for Heroes program in Georgia she knows of is near Atlanta.
“There are approximately 2,000 severely disabled vets in this area that could benefit from this program,” said Horses for Heroes volunteer Bruce McCartney. “The Winn Army Community Hospital commander has been briefed about the program and has expressed interest. There are about 350 soldiers in the Warrior Transition Unit that could benefit.”
U.S. Congressman Jack Kingston and Georgia Rep. John Barrow were also contacted about the program and promised to help get a pilot program going on Fort Stewart, similar to the Paws4Vets program, McCartney said.  
In addition, Department of Veterans Affairs Regional Office Atlanta Director Al Bocchicchio was told about the program and “is communicating with DoD about coordinating active duty and veteran joint participation on Fort Stewart,” he said.
The next Homes for our Troops pancake breakfast will be held from 8-10 a.m. tomorrow at Applebee’s restaurant on Highway 84 in Flemington.  A third breakfast will be held Sept. 4. The first one was last month. Tickets cost $5 and are available at VIP Office Furniture and Supply, Nesmith Chevrolet and Liberty Dodge.
Applebee’s general manager Caesar Walker and Barbara Meador with VIP Office Furniture and Supply organized the three pancake breakfasts to benefit Staff Sgt. Jason Letterman, who served with the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Stewart.
Letterman lost both of his legs, suffered traumatic brain injuries and fractured his shoulder and pelvis from an IED explosion in Farasiyah, Iraq in May 2008, according to Letterman is being treated at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, according to the website. The sergeant’s wife, Elena, and their three young sons live in Hinesville.
Proceeds from the pancake breakfasts will go toward building Letterman a handicap-accessible home, under the Homes for our Troops program.
“I heard about Staff Sgt. Letterman on the radio,” Walker said. “I thought ‘this guy is from Hinesville.’ So, I wanted to help.”
Homes for our Troops builds specially-adapted homes across the U.S. for severely injured veterans at no cost to the veterans. So far the organization has built four such homes in Georgia, the nearest one for U.S. Navy Petty Officer Jeffrey Blackmon of Kingsland.

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