Kennan Horn’s Story
By Chet Curtis
Growing up in Northeastern Oklahoma, Kennan Horn always knew he’d join the Army. Like his dad and older brother before him, he thought it was the thing to do. “My dad was in the Army during the Vietnam era and my older brother was in the Army when I enlisted,” said Horn. “I also had two half-brothers in the Air Force,” he said.
After graduating high school in 1986, Horn enlisted in the Army Reserves as an infantryman where he served in the 1/377th, 95th Infantry Division in Okmulgee, Oklahoma.
His grandmother provided great encouragement to complete college, which he eventually did by completing a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology at Northeastern State University. After completing his degree, Horn was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant, Air Defense Officer. The veteran of Desert Shield/Desert Storm had many operational assignments to include service in the 101st Airborne Division, 25th Light Infantry Division, and 10th Mountain Division, culminating as the Professor of Military Science at the University of Oklahoma.
During his career in the Army he always knew something was wrong with his vision. “I kept going back to the docs but they kept sending me to optometrist after optometrist who never dilated my eyes and they never gave me a field of vision test,” he said
While in Turkey in 2006, he began having bad headaches and, during a visit to a Turkish ophthalmologist, was told he had an eye disease. “I didn’t think anything about it,” said Horn.
Once back in the United States at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma, he asked for an eye test during his son’s visit to the base optometrist. After being given two field of vision tests, he was referred to the Dean McGee Eye Institute in Oklahoma City where they did an Electroretinogram (ERG), a test in which the electrical potentials generated by the retina of the eye are measured when the retina is stimulated by light. This test confirmed he had a rare genetic disorder named retinitis pigmentosa or RP.
“At first it just didn’t hit me how it was going to change my life,” said Horn. “Nobody talked to me about it. I didn’t get any counseling. From the time when they first told me in Turkey up until I went to the Dean McGee Eye Institute, I thought (it) my vision impairment was something that was treatable. I didn’t have any idea.”
Soon after, his VIST Coordinator introduced Horn to a Vietnam veteran who also had RP. “It was really refreshing because now I had somebody I could talk to that had kind of done the things I’ve done, said Horn.
It didn’t take long for Horn to explore other associations. “One of my veteran friends, who’s paralyzed, was a member of the Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA), so I remember thinking to myself I bet there’s a Blinded Veterans Association. And I just looked it up and sure enough, I found it,” Said Horn. Things soon changed for Horn. After a year of BVA membership, Horn was nominated and received the BVA 2017 Major General Melvin J. Maas Achievement Award for professional achievement.
“My wife, Catherine, and I had been talking about going to a BVA convention for some time, but when I won the Maas Award it was kind of like now I’ve really got to go,” said Horn. “We went and had a spectacular time. I can’t begin to tell you,” He said. It was probably one of the best things that has ever happened to me in the last couple of years.”
Meeting people at Convention who cope with the same challenges he and his wife deal with on a daily basis was a positive learning experience for Horn.“Just being able to talk to people that deal with the same things me and my wife deal with, and sharing information was really important.” He said. “It motivated me.”
And what does Horn see in his future?
“I want to do some stuff with the visually impaired community, whether it’s with veterans or not, because I think there’s a story to tell, he said.
“I still consider myself fortunate, even blessed, but moreover to be able to be in the company of folks that gathered at the BVA convention was the highlight of my 2017. I appreciate that opportunity. Hopefully I can do something in return, give back a little bit, and be a good, positive member.”