Prestigious Ranger Brigade Inducts Danny Wallace
First Sergeant Danny Wallace (Ret.), Past National Sergeant-at-Arms and a recent catalyst for activities of the BVA Operation Peer Support Committee, has been accepted and inducted as a Distinguished Member of the Army Ranger Training Brigade (ARTB) for his exceptionally meritorious service as a Ranger Instructor in the Brigade as he worked with his fellow blinded veterans the past two years.
Danny is responsible for the training of nine BVA members of all ages at Camp Frank D. Merrill Military Base in Dahlonega, Georgia. His official induction occurred on April 6 at Fort Benning.
The Induction of Distinguished Members of the Ranger Training Brigade began in October 2000 to fully recognize the contributions of the Brigade’s most renowned and influential members. Inductees are nominated by an active duty member of the Brigade but they must first have served in the Ranger Training Command, the Ranger Department, the Ranger Training Brigade, or have contributed significantly to the promotion of Ranger training in ways that stand out in the eyes of all Rangers past and present.
“First Sergeant Wallace’s leadership and expertise as a Ranger Instructor was key in the development of Ranger leaders and will have lasting effects for years to come,” the citation stated. “His work with the Blinded Veterans Association has been critical in the support and recovery of wounded veterans from all services, and his dedication to Rangers and America’s wounded warriors is in keeping with the finest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon him, the Airborne and Ranger Training Brigade, the United States Maneuver Center of Excellence, and the United States Army.”
Ranger training at Fort Benning began in September 1950 during the Korean War with the formation and training of 17 Airborne Ranger companies by the Ranger Training Command. In October 1951, the Commandant of the U.S. Army infantry School established the Ranger Training Department and extended Ranger training to all combat units in the Army. The first class for individual candidates graduated in March 1952.
Lonnie Bedwell Initiative Scores Among Hoosiers
Sports and adventure enthusiast Lonnie Bedwell, a member of BVA’s Operation Peer Support Committee and the Indiana Regional Group, known for seemingly impossible feats on kayaks, rock climbing expeditions, and downhill skiing events, has done it again with a deer hunting trip in Southern Indiana for disabled veterans. The five-day event began on Veterans Day last November.
The following is an account of the trip, reprinted by permission of the Greene County Daily World of Linton, Indiana. The story was published on November 11, 2016.
Heroes New Hope
Hosts Blind Hunting
by Kelly Slaven
The Heroes New Hope Foundation organized an all-inclusive deer hunting trip for disabled veterans from Friday, November 11 until Tuesday, November 15.
The foundation started a few years ago, according to its official website, to “help the public remember that ‘limitations’ are merely goals to surpass, and to enable wounded or injured veterans to overcome perceived limitations, and to allow for therapeutic healing of one’s inner self through hunting, fishing and other outdoor activities.”
Lonnie Bedwell, of Dugger, Indiana, started the program with the help of others in Southern Indiana to start raising money to take veterans hunting and fishing. Heroes New Hope Foundation now hosts multiple annual events such as blind turkey hunting, golf outings, and fishing trips.
Among BVA’s first Operation Peer Support participants, Travis Fugate, Kentuckiana Regional Group, participated in Lonnie Bedwell’s Heroes New Hope Foundation deer hunting trip for disabled veterans last fall. Pictured here, Travis tries out innovative special scope using his iPhone during target practice.
The group met at Goosepond Lodge and Retreat in Linton on Friday evening to practice and have dinner together before hunting over the weekend, appropriately beginning the trip on Veterans Day.
Bedwell, who is a Navy Veteran and 2014-15 National Geographic Adventurer of the Year, was injured in a hunting accident that took his sight instantly. He was joined by three other disabled veterans and a student from Sullivan County who will soon be losing her eyesight completely, as the foundation pledges to also “provide the same opportunities to children of the fallen or injured, and to children with physical/emotional conditions who would benefit from similar activities.”
With vision impairments present in the group, normal hunting procedures had to be adjusted.
Scott Goodman, one of the event’s organizers, said Vortex Optics donated 12 special scopes to the foundation for use on the trip.
The scopes are equipped with an attachment for a smart phone, and as the smart phone magnifies what the scope sees, a guide standing behind the hunter is then able to view the smart phone screen to help guide the hunter to accurately take a shot.
Although some of the veterans had used the special scopes with the help of a guide before, a few were using the technology for the first time.
Goodman said the scopes are the only method blind hunters can really use, and that is why the student from Sullivan County wanted to learn to hunt with the special scope before losing her eyesight completely, as he said she enjoys hunting. The group of veterans had been wounded in combat, and joined Bedwell traveling out-of-state, with some coming from as far as Utah and others from Illinois.
A ‘Hunting Blind’ turkey hunting event is scheduled for late April.
Stamina on Display at Bataan Memorial March
Five blinded veteran athletes participated March 19 in the Bataan Memorial Death March, a challenging 26.2 mile full marathon march through high desert terrain in honor of the heroic service members who defended the Philippine Islands during World War II as they sacrificed their freedom, health, and, in many cases, their lives.
BVA team of Bataan Memorial marchers lines up prior to beginning of the 26.2 mile journey. Left to right, Steve Baskis, Kevin Baskis, Nate Gorham, Tim Hornik, Lonnie Bedwell, and Dan and Nancy Standage. Photo courtesy of Victor Henderson, Blind Endeavors.
Steve Baskis, Lonnie Bedwell, Nate Gorham, Tim Hornik, and Dan Standage, all members of BVA, joined a record 7,200 marchers from across the United States and several foreign countries 75 years after the historic march occurred on April 9, 1942. The venue for the event, as it has been since 1992, was the White Sands Missile Range near Las Cruces, New Mexico.
The athletes were assisted by three sighted volunteer guides—Victor Henderson, Kevin Baskis, and Nancy Standage.
“I was anxious to get the team together and take on the challenge,” said Nate Gorham. “The event fostered camaraderie among the participants and served as just one more example of what blinded veterans can accomplish.”
Participants and their guides met in Las Cruces, where they enjoyed the hospitality and encouragement of local resident blinded veterans, including BVA technology guru Terry Kebbel and his wife, Maryellen, who have previously engaged in similar physical and mental challenges. The Kebbels hosted the runners in their home.
“The graciousness of people like Terry and Maryellen, along with our trekking poles, decent footware, and considerable determination, helped us conquer the impending obstacles while supporting veterans everywhere and raising awareness of BVA and its misson,” said Nate.
Full cadre of Bataan Memorial Marchers, left to right, Steve Baskis, Lonnie Bedwell, Nancy Standage, Nate Gorham, Dan Standage, and Tim Hornik. At far left only half inside the photo is Kevin Baskis. Photo courtesy of Victor Henderson, Blind Endeavors.
United States and Filipino soldiers numbering 75,000 were surrendered to Japanese forces on that fateful April 9 after months of battling extreme climate conditions. The U.S. soldiers represented multiple branches of the military: Army, Army Air Corps, Navy, and Marines. Among those seized were members of the 200th Coast Artillery of the New Mexico National Guard. The captive soldiers were marched for days, approximately 65 miles through the scorching jungles of the Philippines.
Approximately 10,000 men, 9,000 Filipinos and 1,000 Americans, died in the march. Those who survived faced the hardships of Prisoner Of war Camps and the brutality of their Japanese captors. The POWs would not see freedom until 1945 when U.S.-Filipino forces recaptured the lost territory.
The Army ROTC Department at New Mexico State University began sponsoring the Bataan Memorial Death March in 1989. The memorial march was to mark a page in history that included many native sons and affected several families in the state. In 1992, White Sands Missile Range and the New Mexico National Guard joined in the sponsorship and the event was moved to the Missile Range.
While it remains primarily a military event, many civilians also participate in the challenging march. Participants may choose between two courses: a 14.2-mile route or the one of 26.2 miles.
Marchers such as this year’s group of blinded veterans participate in the Bataan Memorial Death March for many reasons: personal challenge, the spirit of competition, or to foster esprit de corps.
A team must include exactly five persons, and only finishes the race if all members finish together on the principle that one does not leave teammates behind. The race continues all day, with the slowest marchers requiring more than 12 hours to complete the course.
March 28 Marks 72-Year Milestone
Blinded veterans and their families across the United States recently helped organize local events in their respective regions to commemorate the 72nd anniversary of BVA’s founding on March 28, 1945.
The milestone anniversary remembers the approximately 100 young World War II veterans who had lost their sight in combat and gathered in an early morning meeting at Avon Old Farms Army Convalescent Hospital for the purpose of organizing themselves to help one another.
Public Law 111-156, enacted in March 2010 by the 111th Congress in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate with two separate resolutions, designated March 28 each year going forward as National Blinded Veterans Day in recognition of BVA’s efforts to promote the establishment and improvement of rehabilitation services and benefits for America’s blinded veterans. For more information, visit https://www.congress.gov/111/plaws/publ156/PLAW-111publ156.pdf.
BVA requested the assistance of VA Medical Center Directors and Blind Rehabilitation Service staff (VIST Coordinators, BROS, and BRC Directors) in putting together the commemorative activities and events. The Bulletin’s press deadline just before March 28 made it impossible to recap such events in this issue. Look for the coverage of BVA’s anniversary events in the May-June issue.
U.S., UK Blinded Vets Unite, Remember World War I
Project Gemini has once again brought together veterans with vision loss from the United States and the United Kingdom. The occasion was an April 2-8 exchange in Washington, DC in recognition of the centennial anniversary of World War I.
Now in its sixth year and known as Project Gemini for the transatlantic cable that connects the two countries and continents, the week of activities in the Nation’s Capital included educational forums, key federal agency site meetings with leaders of such agencies, and visits with U.S. vision rehabilitation experts, eye trauma specialists, researchers, and DoD specialty leadership.
“The goal of this April exchange was much like the ones we have already experienced in England,” said BVA Government Relations Committee Chairman Major Tom Zampieri (Ret.) and annual coordinator of the exchanges. “We hoped to learn from one another and share best practices in the area of blind rehabilitation, war eye injury management, and current vision research advances so that our participants can be prepared to share them with officials in their home countries.”
Tom also emphasized the importance of the program in fostering mutual respect and understanding between the two allied nations as participants establish new friendships, share knowledge of blind and visually impaired rehabilitation services, and exchange insights and personal experiences regarding their own adjustment to blindness. This year, he says, it happened as blinded veterans recognized the historical significance of World War I and the subsequent beginnings of blind rehabilitation programs.
U.S. blinded veteran participants were BVA National President and Vietnam War veteran Dale Stamper of Hayden, Idaho; Gulf War era veteran Monaca Gilmore of Rocky Mount, North Carolina; Gulf War I and II veteran Bryan Corcoran of South Lebanon, Ohio; and Tom himself, a Vietnam era veteran from Pearland, Texas.
Participating from the United Kingdom were Blind Veterans UK President Colin Williamson and Royal Navy veterans Steven Birkin and Sue Eyles. Alan Walker, an Army veteran who served in the Falkland Islands War in 1982, also made the trip along with Blind Veterans UK Director of Research Dr. Renata Gomes.
The program included a visit to the renowned Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda and the National Medical Museum. They met with senior leaders and program directors at the Department of Veterans Affairs on April 6, the official 100th anniversary of the War. The veterans also visited the British Embassy, Arlington National Cemetery, and various other national memorials. They attended two sessions on the topic of World War I vision injuries and blast concussions at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences on April 7.
Travel expenses for the British participants were covered possible by an American Embassy London exchange grant related to the centennial commemoration of World War I. Team River Runner supplied local van transportation throughout the week. The American Academy of Ophthalmology has also supported Project Gemini through a grant to BVA’s Operation Peer Support program, which provides a pool from which Project Gemini participants are selected.
Retired Army Ranger and police officer Joe Amerling traveled to Washington from Georgia at his own expense to serve as a volunteer sighted guide for the group. Amerling provided a similar service last year during Project Gemini’s stay in Chicago. He enlisted the involvement of the Montgomery County, Maryland Police during the week.
BVA and Blind Veterans UK together established Project Gemini in May 2011. Each year four U.S. blinded veterans are hosted at the Blind Veterans UK facility in Brighton, England, with four of their counterparts in the UK. Project Gemini seeks to raise public awareness of the issues facing war veterans with vision loss and help them individually to discover opportunities for their lives after blindness.
“The vital relationship BVA has developed with Blind Veterans UK has blossomed to the point that our activities and opportunities continue to broaden and multiply,” said Tom. “Our week in DC was one more such opportunity to share knowledge and experience about blind rehabilitation services, vision trauma care, blast concussions, and research as we strengthen our relationship with veterans from the United Kingdom.”
Blind Veterans UK is a national charity, now 102 years of age, working on behalf of visually impaired ex-servicemen. Tracing its founding back to 1915 during World War I, the organization now offers free and comprehensive support to all UK blinded veterans. For additional information, visit blindveterans.org.uk.
Additional highlights and stories surrounding the Project Gemini week in the Nation’s Capital will be presented in the May-June issue of The Bulletin.
Gorham, Hornik Shine at Marathon
Blinded veterans were once again represented in the visually impaired division of the California International Marathon (CIM) last December 3 in Sacramento, California.
Participants in the race were Timothy Hornik of Lawrence, Kansas (Heartland Regional Group), and Nate Gorham of Fort Myers Beach, Florida (Florida Regional Group).
The event serves as the United States Association of Blind Athletes (USABA) National Marathon Championships and also welcomes international participants, youth, novice marathoners, and relay participants.
It was BVA member Richard Hunter, Northern California Regional Group, who founded the visually impaired division of the event in 2007. Hoping for a category similar to that of the Boston Marathon, Richard first ran in CIM with a small group of friends and family.
“What started with two runners and only a dream has blossomed into more than 40 runners from around the world, nearly 70 sighted guides and volunteers, and the realization of countless dreams similar to Richard’s,” said Tim Hornik.
Tim and Nate have proposed a challenge to the BVA membership to help establish the first ever 65 years-and-older marathon relay team for the 2017 CIM. The course will be divided into four equal sections so that each individual running will be responsible for 6-8 miles.
If you feel you can compete with your fellow blinded veterans on a relay team, please contact Tim at email@example.com or Stuart Nelson at firstname.lastname@example.org. In the meantime, Nate and Tim have recounted for Bulletin readers, especially prospective runners, their impressions and memories of CIM.
I had a truly wonderful time participating with USABA in CIM. It was, no doubt, the planning and coordination that went into this event that made it such an awesome experience. From the moment I stepped off the plane in Sacramento, where I was greeted by a volunteer, until being escorted to my gate to fly home, everything went smoothly. I just can’t offer up enough praise.
I was able to tour the city, explore the race expo, eat some great meals, and meet other blind athletes. There was so much inspiration at the event that it was impossible to want to do anything less than give the race my best.
My running guides were two of the most supportive folks I have ever met. I cannot thank them enough and have made plans to run with both again in the future. I am very grateful for this experience. It has motivated me to keep running.
Fitness should be an important part of every person's life, and not even blindness should hold you back. Running CIM with USABA really could change your life!
Participation in USABA’s National Championships at CIM serves as a personal highlight and something I longingly look forward to each year.
During my military career, running enabled my platoons to create our bond of brotherhood by presenting a fun way to challenge and support one another. I would often offer a challenge to any of my Soldiers by promising that wings and beer would be on me for whoever beat me on our Friday runs.
Unfortunately, blindness halted my ability to run. For roughly a decade after going blind in Iraq, I lost this part of my life. The tables turned a little in 2015 when Richard Hunter presented me with an opportunity to run again as part of a blinded veteran relay team at CIM. I give Richard credit for helping me restore my ability to run.
After completing our leg of the 2015 race, my guide and I established a new goal: Run a half marathon in 2016 at CIM. Establishing this goal inspired me to embrace not only running but other forms of physical activities, such as cycling, to finish that half marathon. Thus, I set various daily goals to run or cycle each day and to participate in various other events throughout the year, including a 10-kilometer run.
The results of my activities include an increase in my morale, a decrease in ten pounds of insulation, motivation to create other adaptive sports goals, connection to my community through sighted guides, and a desire to establish a new goal for 2017.
New Media Site Launched
The Blinded Veterans Association has launched blog.bvamedia.net as part of a national initiative to increase awareness among veterans and the general public about the organization itself and to empower and instill hope in blinded veterans during their personal quests to meet the challenges of vision loss.
The content of the blog emphasizes the services and benefits available to veterans through federal and local entities, communicated through personal success stories about BVA members and their families, information about current and pending legislation, and calendar items of upcoming BVA events.
A highlight of the new site is a previously untapped opportunity to produce podcasts, share BVA’s existing public relations efforts more effectively with its members, and utilize other digital communication methods in disseminating such news.
Throughout BVA’s 72-year-history, the ability to communicate with the blinded veteran community was at first limited to written communication and audio through phonographic records and audiocassettes sometime later.
The Internet has dramatically increased the number of accessible and inexpensive methods for individuals to interact and share information. Having already embraced social media such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and LinkedIn, BVA formed an internal public relations committee in August 2016 in an effort to expand communication efforts through podcasts and streaming Internet radio channels.
The launch of blog.bvamedia.net is among the first in a series of actions that have become part of the initiative. To reach the new site, go directly to blog.bvamedia.net or link to it via bva.org.
BVA Saddened by Roy Young Passing
BVA members across the country were saddened to learn of the passing of their friend and fellow blinded veteran Roy Young on February 19 following an extended illness. Roy was a former BVA National Treasurer, Director of District 6, and Greater Houston Regional Group President.
A Vietnam era veteran with vision loss due to both diabetes and the advanced stages of glaucoma, Roy became a member of the National Board of Directors in 2008 at the 63rd National Convention in Phoenix, Arizona, having been appointed first as an Interim District Director and then being elected by the blinded veterans of District 6.
At that same convention he was awarded both the Melvin J. Maas Award for Professional Achievement and the Irving Diener Award, the only blinded veteran in BVA history to receive both awards at the same time.
Once he had located his own needed support from BVA, Roy Young embodied the BVA motto “blinded veterans helping blinded veterans” as he served his fellow veterans both locally and nationally. Roy, left, is pictured here in 2008 at 63rd National Convention in Phoenix as he simultaneously receives both Maas and Diener Awards from then National President Dr. Norman Jones, Jr.
Roy served on the Board for five years until stepping down for health reasons in 2013. In 2012, under the direction of Roy and his wife, Annette, the Greater Houston Regional Group organized many of the activities associated with the 67th National Convention in the City of Galveston, Texas. Roy also helped generate much of the enthusiasm among the BVA membership to hold the convention in Galveston.
Prior to his service nationally and as president of his regional group, Roy fulfilled a number of other regional group and volunteer responsibilities. As a new member of the group, he told his fellow blinded veterans that he had made a promise both to himself and to God that he would forever make himself available to serve his fellow blinded veterans no matter the cost.
Roy was known for his almost unlimited energy, dedication, and creativity in organizing local activities in the Houston area that brought a positive image and extensive media coverage for BVA. He made a special effort to reach out to recently blinded veterans from Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan).
Tailgunners and Pilots Again Sought for VIPER
BVA of Wisconsin Regional Group President John Carter is launching plans for a second annual motorcycle “ride to remember” for up to 75 blinded and low-vision veterans. The ride will occur in Milwaukee August 20.
Organized and carried out by the nonprofit Visually Impaired Patriots Experiencing the Road, Inc. (VIPER), established in late 2015, the journey will originate at a starting and ending point to be determined and announced later. Last year’s ride coincided with the BVA 71st National Convention in downtown Milwaukee.
Veterans from 15 states participated.
VIPER was created with hopes of providing an annual opportunity for veterans to experience that same freedom and excitement of the road.
The ride will again be provided to the Tailgunners, the term used for a VIPER passenger on a motorcycle, trike, or sidecar rig operated by a fully qualified, licensed, and insured driver called a VIPER Pilot. Some 100-150 volunteers, referred to as the Groundcrew, will be available to provide other services, assistance, and support during the day.
The Viper Ride, now in its second year, offers a day of motorcycling, socializing, food, and entertainment to blinded veterans from Wisconsin and across the country. Last year more than a dozen attendees of the nearby BVA 71st National Convention participated in the event, including Tailgunners Kenny Adams and Claudia Belk (pictured with white canes).
The entourage will travel on some of the premier biking roads in Southeastern Wisconsin.
John reiterated that the Tailgunners themselves must be military veterans who are blind, visually impaired, or who receive low-vision services at a VA facility. BVA membership is not a requirement.
For more information and application materials, visit www.theviperride.org, call 414-525-9005, or email email@example.com. Although it is a pre-registration event, there is no cost to the veteran for the ride, lunch, and entertainment.
Business Owners Sought
BVA National Headquarters continues to search for blinded veterans who are owners of small businesses to connect them with one another and to highlight their stories and accomplishments through a variety of media.
“We hope to find examples of successful businesses so that other veterans become interested in starting their own enterprises,” said Project Manager Christina Hitchcock. “Additionally, we would also like to maintain a list of businesses so that we can facilitate a connection when we are contacted by individuals or companies seeking service from veteran-owned and veteran-operated companies.”
No business is too big or too small to be included on the list, according to Christina. Please call her at 202-371-8880, Ext. 303, or send a message to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Membership Coordinator Requests Information
Blinded veterans and their families who become aware of the relocation or passing of a fellow BVA member are advised to notify Membership Coordinator Cecilia Montenegro, email@example.com, at BVA National Headquarters, as soon as possible following the change in status.
Officers of regional groups are asked to do the same whenever they come across similar information in speaking with BVA members or in searching for individual veterans.
Spouses of deceased blinded veterans may, upon request, continue receiving by postal mail the hard copy print version of The Bulletin. Please contact Cecilia or Stuart Nelson, firstname.lastname@example.org, with the request.
BVA members are encouraged to read The Bulletin employing the format(s) most convenient for them. There are six options: 1) Hard copy print version mailed to the member’s home (also available to nonmembers), 2) Professionally recorded CD with photo descriptions mailed to the member’s home (membership required), 3) The same recording presented on YouTube, 4) HTML accessible text on the BVA website, 5) Emailed Word document containing the complete contents, including descriptions of photos and graphics, and 6) Emailed PDF document identical to the hard copy print version.