Five members of the Blinded Veterans Association with unusually high levels of strength, stamina, endurance, and perhaps even some extra doses of courage left over from their days in the military recently participated in a long weekend of rigorous U.S. Army Mountain Ranger training.
The site of the training, held April 22-26, was Camp Frank D. Merrill Military Base in Dahlonega, Georgia, located in the northern part of the state. The base is the general meeting point for the 5th Ranger Training Battalion and a school for rangers.
With travel sponsored by BVA and the idea brought to fruition by the Association’s National Sergeant-At-Arms Danny Wallace of Union, Missouri, the trip to Camp Merrill and the subsequent training to be an Army Ranger was for the blinded veterans much like it is for actual ranger trainee recruits.
“We displayed our unstoppable drive not only to ourselves but to the elite U.S. Army Rangers,” Danny declared as the five-day experience came to an end.
Danny was accompanied in the training, conducted by his fellow rangers and overseen by the U.S. Army Mountain Ranger Association, by veterans who were injured in combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan within the last ten years: Steve Baskis of Veronia, Wisconsin; Lonnie Bedwell of Dugger, Indiana; Aaron Hale of Santa Rosa Beach, Florida; and Michael Malarsie of South Jordan, Utah.
Blinded veteran Lonnie Bedwell, already known in BVA circles for his kayaking exploits in the Grand Canyon, scales synthetic rock wall during Army Ranger training April 24. The group performed mountaineering feats at both the camp and at nearby Mount Yonah in the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest of northern Georgia.
Activities consisted of mountaineering training that included hiking up a rock-strewn trail toward cliffs they would later climb and repel. At the cliffs the Ranger cadre and instructors set up eight climbing stations at which each trainee could prove himself on the vertical rock. The instructors assisted them in tying knots and ascending the rock face. Later in the day they moved back to a base camp and climbed a synthetic rock wall and performed additional repelling.
“The trip to Camp Merrill was truly amazing and something I will never forget,” said Steve Baskis. “I felt an overwhelming sense of pride for the chance to work again with fellow comrades who served in the same war as I did.”
The five ranger trainees also conducted both a 5K and a 15K run. In addition, they were invited to the Gainesville, Georgia Police Department, where they shot live fire using shotguns, assault rifles, and pistols.
The act of participating in physical fitness, recreation, and sports can be a great recovery tool,” said Steve. “Communication skills, confidence, trust, and independence are only a few attributes that can be gained and refined by participating in a program like this.”
Steve’s comments were echoed by Michael Malarsie, who also lauded the program and overall experience.
“When I retired from the military, I assumed I’d miss the people I served with and all of the exciting things I was able to do, but I had didn’t expect to miss it as much as I do,” he said. “Being at Ranger Camp was a boost and a reminder of the things I love.”
Michael was as emphatic about his associations with fellow comrades as he was about the activities themselves.
“Not only was the rappelling, rock climbing, and shooting an absolute blast but the chance to spend so much time with people just like me was revitalizing,” he said. “I made amazing new friends and we’re already planning to meet up later this year—can’t thank enough BVA and the rangers for making this opportunity happen and for letting me be a part of it.”
In addition to the rigorous physical activity, the veterans were treated to a barbecue, a fish fry, and a critter cookout in the evenings.
“When I’ve heard about ranger training in the past, I’ve heard about a lack of food,” Steve joked. “In this case food was in high abundance with a store even across the street so there was no way we were going to be allowed to starve!”
The experience was sufficiently memorable and impactful that the veterans urged BVA to make its support an annual occurrence.
“I’m motivated and excited to get back to normal life and take it head on!” stressed Michael. “I sincerely hope this sort of event starts become a regular one on the BVA calendar.”