British and U.S. Blinded Veterans Unite at 13th Annual Major Charles Robert Soltes Memorial Golf Event


(IRVINE, CALIFORNIA, September 29, 2017) -- Six blinded American veterans and six British blinded comrades will share rehabilitation experiences that tell the story of their personal adjustment to blindness at the 13th Annual Major Charles Robert Soltes Memorial Golf Tournament in Irvine, California on Monday, October 9, 2017. The Project Gemini group will join golfers for the annual competition to honor Major Soltes on Monday, at the Oak Creek Golf Club. In October 2004, Major Soltes became the first U.S. Army optometrist-soldier killed in action while serving on active duty in Iraq.

On March 24 of this year, Project Gemini was recognized in the UK with the “Soldiering On Award 2017” in the International Category. The award acknowledges the outstanding achievements of those who have served their country. It also recognizes individuals and groups who successfully work together with the Armed Forces community in the United Kingdom. The goal of each Project Gemini exchange that has taken place during the past seven years is similar. We all learn from one another and share our experiences in the areas of blind rehabilitation, adaptive technology, recreational sports, and vision research.

This year’s Project Gemini exchanges are also recognizing the joint historical significance of the WWI centennial and its impact on the beginnings of war blind rehabilitation programs in America in 1917. This week’s events will also emphasize the importance of increased cooperation, and understanding between the allied nations.

The participants will spend five days together in activities beginning with the golf event on Monday. On Tuesday, they will visit the Gary Sinise Foundation in LA, the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and be hosted at American Legion Post #43. The remainder of the week will include: sailing with California Sailing at Newport Beach on Wednesday; a tour of the Maj. Charles R. Soltes Jr. OD VA Blind Rehabilitation Center, followed by blind archery on Thursday; and on Friday International Rowing, and a White Cane Day event at the Long Beach VA Medical Center.

The Blinded Veterans Association (BVA) is a non-profit Veterans Service Organization that uses funds raised at the golf tournament for its Operation Peer Support (OPS) initiative, which supports various events during the year. OPS bring together Gulf War I and Gulf War II era blinded veterans to share their experiences, and also participate in various sports events throughout the year.

The BVA veterans taking part this year include; Corporal Steve Baskis, Army First Sergeant Dan Wallace, Sgt. Monaca Gilmore, Specialist Tina Limus, Navy Petty Officer Scott Scieszinski, Lieutenant Brian "Ski" Donarski, Corporal Nate Harrison, and Army Ranger volunteer Joe Amerling (Ret.) all of whom are Gulf War I or Gulf War II era veterans. Maj Thomas Zampieri (Ret.) is a BVA board member and will attend for the sixth time. There are 5,000 men and women in the U.S. who have been affected by penetrating eye injuries. In addition, there are an estimated 35,000 wounded in the VA health care system with suspected TBI vision system impairments. UK Participants include: Colin Williamson, president of Blind UK; Army Corporal John Robinson, Lance Corporal Mark Heaume, Trooper Darren Blanks, Corporal Christopher Strudwick, Corporal Kelly Ganfield, BVUK recreation staff Louise Timms.

The goal of Project Gemini is to develop public awareness within the two nations regarding vision loss resulting from trauma, and the recovery process. The BVA was organized March 28, 1945. Its motto is “blinded veterans helping blinded veterans.” The organization connects veterans and their families to each other (www.bva.org). Blind Veterans UK was founded in 1915 as a charity whose purpose was to train and support soldiers blinded in the First World War. The organization has continued for 102 years, and gone on to support more than 35,000 blind veterans and their families, including those involved in recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. http://www.blindveterans.org.uk

BVA and Blind Veterans UK are available for interviews and photos, during the day of the golf event or at other events during the Project Gemini week. For more information about the tournament and the day’s activities onsite, please contact (www.soltesmemorial.com) or Tom Zampieri at 301-204-3291 or Steve Baskis cell 270-404-6905.