by Dale Stamper
Unity of Purpose
The motto of the Blinded Veterans Association is simply this: Blinded Veterans Helping Blinded Veterans. We are true to our motto as we encourage fellow blinded veterans, inform one another of the latest technology, and share ways in which all of us can broaden our horizons.
BVA must remain a vital force in advocating on behalf of our nation’s blind and visually impaired veterans.
An area of concern is our declining membership due to attrition and the need to encourage visually impaired veterans to join BVA. As is the case with all VSOs, we must be creative and innovative to gain the attention of our younger veterans. They are not just our future but also our present.
Recently I was invited to the Major Charles Robert (Rob) Soltes Memorial Golf Tournament in Irvine, California. It was a great experience. Major Soltes was an optometrist deployed to Iraq and subsequently killed by an Improvised Explosive Device. His family and friends put on the golf tournament annually to honor his memory. The enthusiasm and energy of both the volunteers and family members are tremendous. The tournament raises funds for BVA’s Operation Peer Support initiative.
At far right, Dale Stamper and guide dog Venture, accompanied by, left to right, Tom Zampieri, Brian “Ski” Dornaski and Steve Baskis with Brits Colin Williamson, Ken Facal, and Billy Drinkwater during tour of Charles Robert Soltes, Jr. Blind Rehabilitation Center. The tour followed the charity golf tournament the previous day. Photo courtesy of Amy Girouard, Precision Vision, Inc.
Veterans participating in this year’s golf event were Operation Iraqi Freedom vets Lieutenant Brian “Ski” Dornaski and Specialist Steve Baskis, the youngest participant. Director of District 6 Dr. Tom Zampieri and I, both Vietnam era veterans, accompanied them. United Kingdom Army Corporal veterans Billy Drinkwater and Ken Facal, injured together in Afghanistan in the same IED blast in 2011, also participated. They were accompanied by Gunny Colin Williamson, a staff member of Blind Veterans UK and legally blind from a war injury experienced in Northern Ireland.
Also participating was Howard Payne, a member of our new Orange County Regional Group. A World War II veteran some 60 years older than Steve Baskis, Howard is an excellent golfer. The combined efforts on the part of all of the golfers were made in an effort to raise funds for BVA and promote the organization.
To do justice to their participation in the tournament, I must provide additional detail about both Ski and Steve.
Ski was injured during Operation Desert Storm and later re-enlisted after September 11, 2001. He was injured again and lost one eye. He has actually played golf as a professional and challenged all the participants to match his drive off the tee. To make this happen, Ski asked his competitors to wear a patch over their best eye when driving the ball. All soon realized the challenges Ski faced and were impressed when he consistently had the best drives. He outperformed every participant who accepted the challenge.
Ski requested a $20 donation from those who wanted to use his drive instead of their own. He faced four challengers at a time for more than six hours. He represented blinded veterans well and raised considerable funds for Operation Peer Support. He did this despite the fact that he cannot be a BVA member since his vision loss does not meet the current requirements for legal blindness.
Steve Baskis, a young totally blind veteran and mountain climber who has been highlighted several times in the Bulletin and at a number of our conventions, was the keynote speaker at the awards dinner after the tournament. He shared his climbing accomplishments, which included the scaling twice of a 20,000-foot peak near Mount Everest and Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa. He concluded his talk by giving thanks to Tom Zampieri for visiting him at the old Walter Reed Army Medical Center back in 2008 and later at the Central Blind Rehabilitation Center in Hines, Illinois. He also thanked him for inviting him to visit BVA National Headquarters and to attend meetings on Capitol Hill.
The aforementioned two young men, Steve and Ski, have been excellent ambassadors for BVA.
Over the past nine years, the question has often been asked in BVA circles as to why so much effort is put into Operation Peer Support. I hope that the examples of these two young men answer that question. The golf tournament brought together a group of veterans from different eras and even different countries and backgrounds. They came together for a common purpose, that of benefiting the Blinded Veterans Association. I believe BVA can be made stronger as we make room for all of our nation’s visually impaired veterans.
Wade Davis, Dale Stamper, and Al Avina at Arlington National Cemetery on Veterans Day. Guide dogs, left and right, are Venture and Katy.