British and U.S. Blinded Veterans Unite at 12th Annual Major Charles Robert Soltes Memorial Golf Event


(IRVINE, CALIFORNIA, October 3, 2016) -- Three war blinded American veterans and two British Army war-blinded comrades will share rehabilitation experiences that tell the story of their personal adjustment to blindness at the 12th Annual Major Charles Robert Soltes Memorial Golf Tournament in Irvine, California.

They will spend five days together in activities associated with the golf event and will visit local attractions. Specifically, the group will join golfers for the annual competition to honor Major Rob Soltes on Monday, October 10, at the Oak Creek Golf Club. In October 2004, Major Soltes became the first U.S. Army optometrist-soldier killed in action while serving on active duty in Iraq.

The Blinded Veterans Association (BVA) is a non-profit Veterans Service Organization that uses funds raised at the tournament for its Operation Peer Support (OPS) initiative, which supports various events during the year. OPS brings together Gulf War I and Gulf War II blinded veterans to share experiences. Together they also learn about rehabilitation opportunities, technology, and the benefits they have earned as a result of their service. They also participate in various sports events for the disabled throughout the year.

The tournament veterans include U.S. veterans who suffered eye injuries in combat: Master Sergeant Eric Marts, Army First Sergeant Dan Wallace, and Lieutenant Brian "Ski" Donarski, all of whom are Iraq War blinded veterans. Major Thomas Zampieri is a BVA member who participates in planning the annual event. There are 5,000 men and women in the U.S. who have been affected by severe penetrating eye injuries. In addition, nearly 55,000 individuals in the VA health care system have TBI vision system impairments.

Others participating from the UK will be British Army Corporals Robert Long, Chris Nowell, and 21-year Army veteran Mark Hollis, current Director of Recreation Therapy at Blind Veterans UK. Each May, Zampieri and other OPS veterans travel to the UK for a weeklong exchange known as Project Gemini, now in its sixth year and which is most often conducted in the London area. The Gulf War I and Gulf War II era vets share their stories with their UK comrades who lost their sight while serving in the Gulf War or other global conflicts.

The U.S. and UK veterans’ goals are to develop public awareness within the two nations regarding vision loss, vision trauma research, and recovery. The BVA mission, which has lasted now 71 years, is “blinded veterans helping blinded veterans.” The organization seeks to connect veterans with vision loss and their families more closely to their local communities and to encourage them to participate in recreational activities (visit BVA.org), both of which bring a sense of independence and additional meaning to their lives.

BVA officials and tournament participants will be available for interviews and photos on October 9, or during the day of the golf event on October 10. For more information about the tournament and the day’s activities onsite, please contact Tom Clarke at tom@soltesmemorial.com or Tom Zampieri at 301-204-3291. For additional general information about the event, visit Soltes Memorial.