Five blinded American veterans and three British Army war-blinded comrades will share rehabilitation experiences that tell the story of their personal adjustment to blindness at the Major Charles R. Soltes, Jr. O.D. 11th Memorial Charitable Golf event October 12 in Irvine, California.
The group will then join dozens of other golfers registered for the annual competition at the Oak Creek Golf Club, site of the day’s activities.
Range practice and competition begins at 11 a.m., followed by lunch and a full tournament round, a silent auction, a live auction, and an evening awards program. Proceeds of the event go to the Blinded Veterans Association’s (BVA) Operation Peer Support and Project Gemini initiatives.
Major Charles Robert (Rob) Soltes, Jr., O.D. served as a Public Health Commander with the 426th Civil Affairs Battalion, U.S. Army Reserves, in Mosul, Iraq, with the critical mission of assessing and restoring medical infrastructure to improve the lives of ordinary Iraqi citizens. On October 13, 2004, his convoy was attacked by a vehicle-borne Improvised Explosive Device (IED) that resulted in his offering of the ultimate sacrifice for his country. Dr. Soltes was the first optometrist killed in action while on active duty in the United States Army.
During the course of the day veterans and other golfer attendee donors will honor Soltes’ memory by furthering his personal desire to help veterans. Members of his family, friends, and colleagues will also be present.
BVA shares in the spirit and passion of helping fellow veterans, in particular blinded veterans, through its Operation Peer Support and Project Gemini initiatives.
Operation Peer Support, begun in 2006, brings together veterans of recent conflicts with those who have lost their sight during the Vietnam, Korea, and World War II eras. The objective of the program is to provide veterans who have lost their sight most recently with opportunities to interact with men and women who can, as a result of their experience, serve as natural role models and mentors.
Project Gemini, an outgrowth of Operation Peer Support, brings together veterans and service members from the U.S. and the United Kingdom, heightens public awareness within the two countries of the issues facing veterans with vision loss, resulting in improvements in services, vision research, and benefits for both them and their families. Project Gemini is highlighted by a weeklong exchange in England every year in early June.
Veterans participating in the golf event are Operation Iraqi Freedom vets Lieutenant Brian “Ski” Dornaski, First Sergeant Daniel Wallace, and Specialist Steve Baskis. President BVA Dale Stamper, blinded in the Vietnam War, and Major Tom Zampieri (Ret.), a legally blind veteran himself and member of the BVA National Board of Directors, will accompany the veterans.
The UK Army veterans include Corporal Billy Drinkwater and Ken Facal both injured together in Afghanistan in 2011 by an IED blast, and Gunny Colin Williamson, injured in Northern Ireland.
Blind Veterans UK, formerly St. Dunstan’s, is the British national charity for visually impaired ex-servicemen and women. Tracing its founding back to 1915 during World War I, the organization now offers free and comprehensive support to all UK blinded veterans and this year commemorates its 100th anniversary. BVA’s earliest beginnings occurred March 28, 1945 when a group of World War II blinded servicemen convened in a formal meeting at Avon Old Farms Convalescent Hospital near Avon, Connecticut, for the purpose of establishing the Association to represent blinded veterans and their caregivers.