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Wounded veteran gets surprise backyard makeover: 'I had to pinch myself'

When U.S. Army veteran Jae Barclay returned from Afghanistan in 2006 with severe burns down the left side of his body, it prevented him from enjoying his passion for the outdoors.

Thanks to a heartwarming surprise revealed Tuesday on TODAY, Jae now has a backyard that meets all his needs — and it also serves as a remembrance of his friends and fellow soldiers who have lost their lives.

"I had to pinch myself a couple times,'' he told Jenna Bush Hager. "I was like, 'Maybe I'm asleep on the airplane right now (from a business trip).'"

Hager traveled just outside of Houston in her home state of Texas as part of the "Show Heart" series in which TODAY is sharing acts of love and kindness leading up to Valentine's Day. She was there for the big surprise, which came together thanks to the Semper Fi Fund, which has helped more than 15,000 military veterans, and Home Depot.

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A few months after Jae married his wife Sierra in 2005, he was deployed to Afghanistan while she was pregnant with their first child. On their one-year anniversary on Aug. 19, 2006, Sierra received a call from Jae's mother that his Humvee hit an IED. The attack resulted in the deaths of three of his fellow soldiers and left Jae with burns over 40 percent of his body, with 35 percent being third-degree burns. He has since endured more than 20 surgeries.

Three weeks later, Sierra gave birth to their first daughter, Addison.

"Definitely not the way you want your husband to meet your child, but it was better than nothing, that's for sure,'' Sierra told Hager.

As a result of his injuries, Jae was unable to spend time indulging his love for the outdoors because he gets exhausted quickly in the sweltering Texas heat.

"From his fingertips to his shoulder on his left side is completely burned, so when you get the new skin, you don't sweat out of that side of your skin,'' Sierra said. "It's really easy to get overheated."

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While Jae was away recently on business, the Semper Fi Fund decided to surprise him by transforming his backyard with the help of volunteers, some of whom drove three hours to pitch in. They put in lighting, furniture, a fence, a horseshoe pit, water misters and an oscillating fan to keep him cool, and a hot tub to help with his joint pain. They also created a small memorial garden to remember the military veterans who have been lost.

"It's pretty special to have that memorial they put in there," Jae said. "A lot of the guys that I served with, they're the real heroes."

To top it off, they also surprised Jae with a garage filled with brand new tools.

"I really, really appreciate y'all coming out and doing this for me and my family,'' Jae told the volunteers. "From my bottom of my heart, I just want to say thank you."

Follow TODAY.com writer Scott Stump on Twitter.

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