Blinded Veterans Again Persevere At Ranger Training Camp
For the second time in two years, some of the U.S. military’s toughest training was undertaken by a fearless group of blinded veterans led by BVA’s National Sergeant-at-Arms Danny Wallace.
With unusually high levels of strength, stamina, rigor, and endurance, they spent April 20-24 at the U.S. Army Ranger training at Camp Frank D. Merrill Military Base in Georgia.
With travel sponsored by BVA’s Operation Peer Support Committee and the idea brought to fruition by Danny himself, the trip to Camp Merrill and the subsequent training to be an Army Ranger is for the blinded veterans much like it is for actual Ranger recruits.
“We display our unstoppable drive not only to ourselves but to the elite U.S. Army Rangers,” Danny affirmed after the first Ranger experience in 2015.
In addition to Danny, an Army veteran who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), the Ranger Trainee Class of 2016 consisted of Joe Burns, U.S. Marine Corps Vietnam veteran, a graduate of Ranger Class 3-69, and past BVA National President (2001-03); Gulf War Marine Corps veteran Kevin Jackson; OIF Army veteran Adam Rowland; Army National Guardsman and OIF veteran Travis Fugate; and U.S. National Guardsman and OIF veteran Mark Wilson.
“The purpose of the trip is to let people know that an organization for blinded veterans actually exists while building and fostering a bond of camaraderie between BVA and the elite Army Rangers,” said Danny. “It is our intent to demonstrate, not only to our veterans but to the Ranger community as well, the abilities that we possess even without our sight.”
Danny encouraged his fellow veterans to approach their tasks during the training with the sixth stanza of the Ranger Creed in mind: “Readily I will display the intestinal fortitude required to fight on to the Ranger objective and complete the mission though I be the lone survivor. Rangers Lead the Way!!!”
Activities both years consisted of mountaineering training that included hiking up a rock-strewn trail toward cliffs they later climbed and rappelled. At the cliffs, the Ranger cadre and instructors set up eight climbing stations at which trainees could prove themselves 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 perform additional rappelling.
“The only limitations that we face are those that we place on ourselves,” Danny said. “Words that come to mind in helping us overcome these limitations as blinded veterans are courage, determination, self-respect, intestinal fortitude, pride, self-worth, confidence, commitment, and fellowship, just to name a few.”
The Ranger trainees also conducted a 5K run. In addition, they were invited in both 2015 and 2016 to the Gainesville, Georgia Police Department, where they shot live fire using shotguns, assault rifles and pistols. Several eating, drinking, and storytelling competitions are also on the program.
“I first attended Ranger school 47 years ago,” said Joe Burns, the oldest of the participants from both years and a resident of New Orleans, Louisiana. “This prior experience did not interfere with the rewards that I reaped from having the chance to do it again now.”
Joe’s comments were echoed by Kevin Jackson of Austin, Texas, who also praised the program and the overall experience.
“Walking up to and then climbing the rock, I paid attention to all of my body positions,” he said. “This total body experience was very revealing and provided me with a sense of accomplishment that I had not experienced in a long time as I ascended to a height I didn’t expect.”
Kevin was as emphatic about his associations with fellow comrades as he was about the activities themselves.
“The camaraderie and companionship that was built in five days with other blinded veterans as well as our guides was beyond belief and very enduring,” he said. “Our guides went out of their way to support us in any way they could.”
In addition to the rigorous physical activity, the trainee participants were treated to a barbecue, a fish fry, and a critter cookout in the evenings.
The groups that Danny arranged to keep the veterans safe, well-fed, and on schedule for two years included two young soldiers who worked at the camp and a larger cadre of his Ranger friends, some of whom traveled long distances to be able to work with the group.
“The devotion and respect these warriors command is second to none,” said one such volunteer who traveled across the country in 2016 and who preferred to remain anonymous. “It is times like these, now each year, that makes me appreciate the love these veterans have for their country, and the esprit de corps that we have holds a special place in my heart.”