By: Jenny B. Davis
Funding raised at this year’s Chris Kyle Memorial Benefit is going to the veterans – and the dogs.
Wayne Kyle has seen the impact a service dog can have on a veteran returning to civilian life. In fact, he saw it with his son, Jeff. Jeff Kyle served in the U.S. Marine Corps for eight years. When he came home, Wayne Kyle says his son struggled with being separated from the bond he formed with the fellow Marines he spent each day with.
“That bond is very strong,” Wayne Kyle said. “When they come out, adapting to civilian life is not always the easiest thing.”
He said his son would often become nervous, reacting quickly in various situations. Then Jeff Kyle got a dog – a Belgian Malinois that could help him adjust to home life and, also, just be a friend.
“Animals can sense what a human is feeling,” Wayne Kyle said. “His dog did, bonded with him immediately, and we saw Jeff become a changed person because then he had somebody that he could bond with each and every day.”
That’s why, for the Kyle family, it made sense to choose Smoky Mountain Service Dogs as the beneficiary for this year’s fourth annual Chris Kyle Memorial Benefit, an event the Kyle family started about three years ago to raise money for organizations that support veterans and first responders. The event is named after their son Chris, the former U.S. Navy SEAL and skilled sniper who was the inspiration behind the 2014 film American Sniper. Wayne Kyle is Chris’ father, and Jeff Kyle is Chris’ brother.
Jeff Kyle didn’t receive his dog from Smoky Mountain, but the organization has a similar mission – to provide service dogs to veterans returning to everyday life.
“We saw a tremendous change in Jeff’s life when he got his service dog,” Wayne Kyle said. “We just believe in that and have seen tremendous improvement in our warriors through the use of service dogs.”
Wayne Kyle said the Chris Kyle Memorial Benefit chooses beneficiaries that are “90-10,” meaning 90 percent of funds must go toward services for veterans or first responders, while the rest goes toward other expenses. Last year, the event raised about $115,000 for the Spirit of a Hero Foundation, which provides financial, moral and community support to wounded service members.
This year’s event takes place May 5-6, with activities scheduled throughout both days. Friday will begin with a golf tournament at the Mira Vista Country Club, followed by a dinner and live music to honor Vietnam veterans. On Saturday, a clay shoot will take place in the morning at Alpine Shooting Range, followed by an exhibition in hippotherapy (that is, the use of horses for therapy, similar to dogs) at the Stockyards stables and a dinner at River Ranch. The dinner will include live music from artists like the Gordon Collier Band, the Mark Wills Band, and 2016 “The Voice” contestant Austin Allsup, along with a silent and live auction.
On both days, people can also attend the Stockyards Championship Rodeo at Cowtown Coliseum, and a percentage of ticket sales will go toward the Chris Kyle Memorial Benefit.
“Our family has always been patriotic, very supportive of our military and our first responders,” Kyle said. “Raising two warriors ourselves, we knew the impact not only on those warriors but on the families.”
By: Jenny B. Davis