Guide dogs to march with blind veterans for the first time at the Cenotaph this year
8 November 2015 16:21
Six blind veterans with guide dogs who are all supported by both Blind Veterans UK and the charity Guide Dogs will march to the Cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday for the first time this year.
Kerry Levins, 44 from Brighton in East Sussex, will be one of the six veterans marching with his guide dog Pedro. They will be part of a group of more than 100 blind and vision-impaired veterans marching to represent Blind Veterans UK, a military charity celebrating its centenary this year.
Kerry joined the Army in 1990 and was commissioned into the Royal Signals the following year. He served in Hong Kong, Nepal, Brunei, North America, the UK and Most of Europe. Kerry left the Army in 1999 as a Captain.
It is as a consequence of his service in the Far East that Kerry is now supported by Blind Veterans UK and the charity Guide Dogs. Complications arising from vaccines received for working in the Jungle have caused Kerry's immune system to begin attacking his eyes, leaving him Severely Visually Impaired.
Kerry explains: "Initially it appeared to be an eye infection but that quickly developed and at one point I lost my sight completely for six weeks. It never fully came back and has continued to deteriorate."
"Sight loss affects every aspect of your life; from eating to travelling. My greatest fear was that I would not be able to see my daughter as she grew up."
Kerry started receiving help and support from Blind Veterans UK in 2010 after his mother, who has been a supporter of the charity for a number of years, suggested it to him.
Kerry says: "The most important thing Blind Veterans UK has taught me is that it isn't about what you can't do - it's about what you can do. They showed me that life doesn't stop after sight loss."
A month before Kerry started receiving support from Blind Veterans UK he was paired with his guide dog Pedro from the charity Guide Dogs.
Kerry says: "Pedro can be quite strong-willed and needs someone who can handle him and keep him focussed on his work - not least in terms of personality I think we are quite well matched."
"Pedro has changed my life, I had become rather withdrawn and having a guide dog has helped me re-engage with people on a personal level, he really is quite the ice-breaker."
Kerry will be marching to the Cenotaph for the third time but it is the first time he will march with his guide dog as this year marks the first year guide dogs will be joining the Blind Veterans UK contingent on Remembrance Sunday.
Kerry says: "Blind Veterans UK is all about helping those who have served their country lead an independent life after sight loss, this is yet another example of proving that it's not about what you can't do - it's about what you can do; such as taking part in the parade without having to hold on to a sighted guide, we'll be taking part under our own steam and not relying on others, except the dogs!"
On what Remembrance means to Kerry, he says: "On Remembrance Sunday I think of all that I served with, those who are still here and those who are not; I do not believe it is just about remembering those who have given their lives, it is also about everyone who has been prepared to do so and of course those who continue to do so today."
The march past the Cenotaph will take place on Remembrance Sunday (08/11) and Kerry will be joined by the Chief Executive of Blind Veterans UK Major General (Rtd) Nick Caplin CB.
Nick said: "Kerry should be commended for his work in helping ensure that he and others will be marching with their guide dogs for the first time. I know the important role guide dogs play in so many of our veteran's lives.
"This year is extra special for Blind Veterans UK as we are celebrating 100 years of proud service to blind and vision-impaired ex-Service men and women and it is only right that these six veterans are a part of that."
Richard Leaman, Chief Executive of Guide Dogs said: "We are incredibly proud of the six guide dog owners who are taking part in the Remembrance Day service at the Cenotaph.
"They have continued their service to the nation by breaking down the barrier to allow future guide dog owners the same freedom to pay their respects as everyone else on this significant day and it is a monumental achievement.