Kevin Knight imagined a future in the U.S. Army. But when he injured both eyes in a training accident, he chased a different dream--his own business, Knight Solutions--and wound up serving his nation in a different way. Entrepreneur Kevin Knight told his story to Inc. contributing editor Darren Dahl.
I remember sitting in a chair in the doctor's office crying. He told me I was blind in my right eye and that I would be of no use to the Army. It was devastating.
Eventually, I graduated from Norfolk State University and then the University of Cincinnati, where I received my master's. I then worked for a number of big companies, like General Motors, that taught me what I needed to know to launch my own business.
I came to see the poor conditions of our military cemeteries when I went to the funeral of my brother-in-law, who was a Vietnam vet. It became my calling to turn those resting places around so that families can have a pleasant experience visiting their loved ones.
I started making connections through the Department of Veterans Affairs. I explained that I wanted to take veterans who have seen action and hire them, give them a place where they would be able to say, "I did not leave my brother behind; I am taking care of him now." I launched Knight Solutions with the help of a mentor who enlightened me on the programs available to service-disabled-veteran-owned businesses.
When it comes to military cemeteries, all people think about is Arlington National. But there are more than 100 national cemeteries, some of which aren't kept to the standard they should be.
Kevin Knight, at Winchester National Cemetery in Virginia--one of the military burial sites that Knight Solutions keeps shipshape
We're based in Leesburg, Virginia, but we provide cemetery restoration, construction, and grounds maintenance nationwide. Each job lasts about 12 to 18 months. We raise and realign each headstone and replace the sod. There is a standard for working on national cemeteries called the shrine standards, which requires that every headstone stand up straight, like a soldier. Anytime we start a new job, I remind our employees that there is zero tolerance for delivering anything less than that.
When we get a new contract, I call the VA hospital near the cemetery and talk to the veterans' rep to let them know I will be hiring a pool of veterans for the job. We set up a trailer as a base to get started and then move on to the next one. It's like having a mobile command center.
I get veterans who tell me their lives have been forever changed. Not only do they have stable employment with benefits, but they also have a sense of purpose in taking care of the resting place for their fallen brothers and sisters.
Giving Vets--Both Living And Fallen--The Respect They Deserve
Kevin Knight keeps military cemeteries in fighting shape.
IMAGES: smilla4/Flickr; Melissa Golden, Melissa Golden
DARREN DAHL is a contributing editor at Inc. Magazine, which he has written for since 2004. He also works as a collaborative writer and editor and has partnered with several high-profile authors. Dahl lives in Asheville, NC.