Blinded Veterans Set for Army Mountain Ranger Training Camp
Six veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces, all legally blind and from several eras of service, will deploy to the U.S. Army Mountain Ranger Training Camp April 20-24. Despite having lost their sight, participants in the camp will utilize high levels of strength, stamina, endurance, and perhaps even some extra doses of courage left over from their days in the military.
The trainees are all members of the Blinded Veterans Association (BVA), the only Veterans Service Organization exclusively dedicated to serving the estimated 132,000 blinded veterans and their families throughout the United States. The Association’s headquarters is located in Alexandria, Virginia.
BVA’s Operation Peer Support initiative is the travel sponsor of the training for the second consecutive year. A similar group from BVA experienced Ranger Training Camp in 2015.
Operation Peer Support, initiated in 2006, seeks to help newly blinded veterans adjust to their loss of sight and look forward to the possibilities and opportunities that lie ahead for them. This is done through social activities, counseling, educational forums that inform them of benefits and rehabilitation programs, and events such as the anger Training Camp. Friendships are established with both veterans of earlier conflicts and their military contemporaries with whom they trained and fought.
The site of the Ranger training is Camp Frank D. Merrill Military Base in Dahlonega, Georgia, located in the northern portion of the state. The base is the general meeting point for the 5th Ranger Training Battalion and a school for Rangers.
Activities and tests will consist of mountaineering training that includes climbing sheer rock faces and rappelling down them. The Ranger cadre and instructors will set up climbing stations at which the trainees will prove themselves on the vertical rock. The instructors will assist them in tying knots and ascending the rock face.
The six veterans will also participate in a small arms firing range, competitive foot races, and several eating, drinking, and storytelling competitions. They will forge through each activity using the sixth stanza of the Ranger Creed as their foundation: “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!”
Accepting these challenges are: Joe Burns (New Orleans, Louisiana), U.S. Marine Corps Vietnam veteran and graduate of Ranger Class 3-69; Kevin Jackson (Austin, Texas), U.S. Marine Corps veteran of the Gulf War; Travis Fugate (Emmalena, Kentucky), U.S. Army National Guard veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom; Adam Rowland (Wittman, Arizona), U.S. Army veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom; Mark Wilson (Palmyra, Missouri), U.S. Army National Guard veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom; and BVA National Sergeant-at-Arms Danny Wallace (Union, Missouri), U.S. Army veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“The purpose of the trip to the Mountain Ranger Camp is to foster and build a bond of camaraderie between BVA and the elite U.S. Army Rangers,” said Wallace, also the group leader again this year and the brainchild behind the training experience for himself and his fellow blinded veterans. “It is my intent to demonstrate, not only to our veterans but to the Ranger community as well, the abilities we possess even without our sight.”
Wallace said that Ranger trainees will also participate in the camp’s annual open house on April 23, an event that typically brings thousands of attendees with whom trainees will be able to share their rehabilitation experiences as well as their personal and group accomplishments at the camp.