Soltes Golf Event Proves Huge Hit

 

Attracted by a new 2014 venue and a larger number of sponsors and promotions such as a silent auction, Southern California golf enthusiasts flocked in greater numbers than ever before to the tenth annual Major Charles R. Soltes, Jr. O.D. Memorial Golf Event held October 13.

California native Tom Clarke first organized the tournament in 2005, which includes a round of golf, green and cart fees, lunch, dinner, and beverages.

This year’s event registered 134 golfers compared to 75-80 in recent years. In addition to the silent auction as part of the fundraising program, the event featured a first-ever “Helicopter Golf Ball Drop” with a number on each ball. Participants signed up for a particular ball with a $100 pledge. If their assigned ball went into the hole in one drop, they won a prize.

A percentage of the proceeds of the event, held this year at the Oak Creek Golf Club in the City of Irvine, have been generously donated to the Blinded Veterans Association’s Operation Peer Support and Project Gemini initiatives for the fourth consecutive year. Contributions will also benefit a scholarship program of Norwich University, Major Soltes’ alma mater.

The friendly, daylong Columbus Day competition honored the Army optometrist who heroically lost his life in Iraq ten years to the day of this year’s tournament. Major Soltes’ vehicle ran over an Improvised Explosive Device on October 13, 2004 as part of the attack on his convoy. At the time, he served as a Public Health Commander with the 426th Civil Affairs Battalion, United States Army. He was the first Army optometrist ever killed in action while on active duty.

The VA BRC in Long Beach, California, also bears Major Soltes’ name.

Tom Clarke is a longtime friend of Major Soltes and his wife, Dr. Sally Dang, who also now honors her late husband as a full-time Rehabilitation Counselor at the Soltes BRC. Over many years, Clarke’s strong bonds of friendship have also included Sally’s three sons and the couple’s extended families.

“As always, many military colleagues of Major Rob Soltes were there, as were his parents, other family members, college alumni, and dozens of friends who knew him well,” said BVA Director of District 6 Dr. Tom Zampieri. “These giving individuals volunteered and participated in the afternoon golf event and special evening awards banquet, the latter of which was sold out with 150 attendees while there were 55 in previous years!”

Also present was BVA National President Mark Cornell, who traveled to Southern California from San Antonio, Texas, and who spent the afternoon at the 17th hole with the specific purpose of thanking each participant for his/her participation and support.

Operation Peer Support seeks to help service members and veterans in their recovery process. The initiative focuses on those who have recently experienced vision loss as a result of an injury related to Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) or Operation Enduring Freedom, Afghanistan (OEF), bringing them and their families together with veterans who experienced blindness in earlier conflicts. Project Gemini is a similar initiative that once a year brings together “Across The Pond” legally blind service members and veterans from the United States and the United Kingdom.

Veterans who have previously participated in Operation Peer Support and who were present at the golf tournament were Tim Hornik of Lawrence, Kansas; Mark Wilson of Palmyra, Missouri; and Shianti Lee of nearby Los Angeles. Each spoke at the evening dinner to thank event participants and sponsors. Mark presented Dr. Dang with his own handmade wooden plaque to thank her for her longstanding support of BVA National Conventions, especially the Operation Peer Support activities.

Also present as a full-fledged golf participant and event supporter was two-time Purple Heart recipient Lieutenant Brian “Ski” Dornaski, a Special Forces Army Officer injured in an IED explosion in Iraq in 2005. “Ski” spent two years in the Richmond, Virginia Polytrauma Center recovering from the injuries. He is totally blind in one eye and lives with retinal damage to his left eye.

“Ski” is a nationally known golfer who has played against players on the PGA tour. He served eight years of active duty in the U.S. Marine Corps in addition to his Special Forces Army service. His second Purple Heart resulted from injuries he experienced in the Gulf War in 1991 as a Marine.

“We are so grateful for all of the work that has gone into putting this event together year after year,” said Tom Zampieri. “It has the support of the entire extended families of Sally and Major Soltes and now of so many others.”

The 11th annual event will be held at the same location on October 12, 2015. For more information, visit www.soltesmemorial.com or contact Tom Clarke at tjc_clarke@yahoo.com.

Happy Holidays from BVA