Special guests and interested members of the Richmond, Virginia, community gathered October 4 for a unique sensory deprivation experience that left them with a better awareness of vision-related injuries affecting veterans.
Sponsored by the Global Campaign against IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices), an organization founded by Army veteran of 31 years Colonel Bob Morris (Ret.), Dinner in the Dark temporarily deprived guests of all vision in a blacked out world as they simultaneously enjoyed a memorable culinary experience in one of Richmond’s finest dining establishments, Max’s Positive Vibe Café in the Stratford Hills Shopping Center.
Guests of Max’s Positive Vibe Café in Richmond get set to dine without the means to visualize their food and utensils.
Colonel Morris himself, chief organizer of Dinner in the Dark, donated proceeds of the sold-out event to the Blinded Veterans Association. Servers for the evening worked as volunteers without remuneration.
Dinner in the Dark blindfolded participants as they sat down for the first course, which consisted of Butternut Squash Soup with Duck Bacon. The main course was a choice of Roast Bison with Barley Risotto, Sweet Potatoes, and Brussels Sprouts, or Gulf Shrimp and Grits with Barbecue Shrimp, Pimento Cheese Grits, and Crispy Collards. Servers then brought out the finale, a White Chocolate and Pecan Bread Pudding with a Whiskey Hard Sauce and Praline Bacon.
Food and wine for the meal was specially selected for its flavor and aroma to enhance the unique sensory awareness experience.
Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran Brian Pearce of nearby Mechanicsville, Virginia, and a member of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Group, briefly shared his own story and experiences of living without sight. BVA National Sergeant-at-Arms Dan Wallace of Union, Missouri, described necessary adjustments he has made since being injured and losing much of his sight in 2003. Director of District 6 Dr. Tom Zampieri represented BVA at the event, publicly thanking Colonel Morris for his months of preparation in organizing it.
“It was a very successful and memorable night for us,” said Tom the following day. “Just a few days before this all happened there were still dozens of unsold tickets but we ended up turning away at least 15 possible participants at the door!”
Guests were challenged to navigate the meal, prepared by master chef Gary Cotton, the way veterans with vision loss similarly do so each day for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. They also experienced state of the art night vision equipment and learned how such technology can benefit those with vision impairments.
The following evening legendary progressive rock musician Ian Anderson, best known for decades for his work as Jethro Tull, presented “Ian Anderson and the Best of Jethro Tull Helping the Heroes” to a sold-out National Theater of some 1,100 enthusiastic and often raucous fans.
Lieutenant Governor of the State of Virginia Ralph Northam, MD with legendary Jethro Tull rock musician Ian Anderson prior to benefit concert October 5.
The performance was also organized and sponsored by the Global Campaign Against Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). It will benefit, in part, BVA member Steve Baskis, injured as a result of an IED and whose dream it is to continue in his rehabilitation by training to someday make the U.S. National Paralympic Biathlon Ski Team.
Biathlon joins cross country skiing and shooting. A biathlete typically skis a loop and then into a shooting range where five targets must be used in firing. A blind athlete uses a ski guide whose voice he/she must follow. The athlete must also use a special audio rifle, complete with computer module and headphones. He/she puts on the headphones, resets the computer module, raises the rifle, and acquires the target by sound.
Perhaps the climactic event of the evening came during a second intermission when Anderson and Morris presented Steve with the gift of an audio rifle to help him further train for the Paralympic Games in PyeongChang, Korea, in 2018.
In a special presentation during the concert, blinded veteran Steve Baskis accepts audio rifle to assist him in training for Paralympic Games. Looking on are, at left, Colonel Bob Morris and, at right, Ian Anderson. Colonel Morris joked in the presentation about a drawing of a one-legged flute player etched on the base of the rifle, a reference to Anderson’s style of playing the flute while standing on one leg.
Other highlights of the concert included VIP donor receptions both prior and after the show, a rousing, patriotic opening performance by the Virginia Military Institute Commander’s Band, and a meeting of select veterans with Ian Anderson before the show.
Virginia Lieutenant Governor Ralph S. Northam, MD was also in attendance and greeted by Ian Anderson himself. Northam’s office is currently finalizing a proclamation by Governor Terry McAuliffe honoring Anderson, The Global Campaign against IEDs, and BVA’s efforts to help wounded veterans. The proclamation will also condemn the use of IEDs and call for greater support to wounded heroes.
Also included in the show was an art exhibit showcasing the paintings of Brian Rock as part of therapy to recover from the visible and invisible wounds of war experienced as both a child in Ireland and as an adult in the United States military after becoming a U.S. citizen. Rock left the Army was an E6 Staff Sergeant.
Ian Anderson shows off wooden plaque of appreciation received from the Blinded Veterans Association. The plaque was crafted and constructed by two-time BVA Operation Peer Support participant Mark Wilson of the Missouri Regional Group (Palmyra, Missouri). At right, Colonel Bob Morris.
More than 85 percent of all service member injuries and deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan have resulted from IEDs. No other single weapon in U.S. military history has been the cause of more injuries and deaths. IEDs are the cause of the four major injuries to veterans and active-duty military. These injuries are vision loss, hearing loss, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and Traumatic Brain Injury (now also linked to vision loss and blindness).
Video links to noteworthy portions of the show and a promotional segment in early October on Virginia This Morning, WTVR-Channel 6 in Richmond, are as follows.