Blind Veterans UK To Host American Veterans in England
Four Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) combat blinded American veterans
will share knowledge, insights, and friendship with their British army
war-blinded comrades in England May 30-June 7, 2015.
The seven-day exchange, now popularly known as Project Gemini, will be based at the Blind Veterans UK
Brighton Centre outside London. Five members of Blinded Veterans UK and
two South African war-blinded veterans will also join this year’s
Project Gemini, initiated in May 2011 and named for the transatlantic
cable that connects the United States and the United Kingdom, is a
joint initiative between the nonprofit organizations Blinded Veterans
Association (BVA), headquartered in Alexandria, Virginia, and Blind
Veterans UK. The initiative seeks to heighten public awareness within
the two countries of the issues facing veterans with vision loss,
resulting in improvements in services and benefits for both them and
their families. This year’s international airfare from Washington Dulles
International Airport to London Heathrow International was donated by
Project Gemini’s original purpose was the sharing of vision
rehabilitation information among the veterans themselves. The
educational scope of the program later widened to include visits and
training sessions with officials of the Department of Defense,
Department of Veterans Affairs, and the National Alliance for Eye and
The 2015 exchange will again address the similarities and differences
in vision research and the rehabilitation training programs offered to
veterans within each of the three countries represented. Adaptive
technology and sports for the blind will also be discussed and put to
practical use during the week.
Other highlights are a tour of the Blind Veterans UK rehabilitation
center, blind archery, and blind bowling competition. Visits to the
Brighton Royal Pavilion, Hastings Castle, the Imperial War Museum, and
other nearby sites will also be included. On June 4 the group will tour
London, the focus of which will be a special Buckingham Palace Garden
reception commemorating the 100th anniversary of Blind Veterans UK. That
evening the group will meet the renowned Wellington Guards and share an
official “mess” dinner.
During the exchange, both groups of veterans will also share helpful
hints about coping with blindness and the “war stories” that are part of
their personal adjustment to blindness and subsequent rehabilitation.
OIF participants are Army Staff Sergeant Jason Pepper, Army Sergeant
Adam Rowland, Staff Sergeant Aaron Hale, and Marine Corporal Chris
Rader. Major Tom Zampieri (Ret.), a legally blind veteran himself and
member of the BVA National Board of Directors, will accompany the
veterans as trip coordinator. BVA National President and Air Force
veteran Mark Cornell of San Antonio, Texas, will also make the trip and
experience Project Gemini for the first time.
Project Gemini is an outgrowth of Operation Peer Support, a BVA
program begun in 2006 that brings together veterans of recent conflicts
with those who have lost their sight during the Vietnam, Korea, and
World War II eras. The objective of the program is to provide veterans
who have lost their sight most recently with opportunities to interact
with men and women who can, as a result of their experience, serve as
natural role models and mentors.
Blind Veterans UK,
formerly St. Dunstan’s, is the British national charity for visually
impaired ex-servicemen and women. Tracing its founding back to 1915
during World War I, the organization now offers free and comprehensive
support to all UK blinded veterans.