Project Gemini's trip to Tucson, Arizona
19 November 2018 14:00
Project Gemini is our exchange program for British, American and South African Armed Forces veterans who have lost their sight.
British blind veteran and President of our charity, Colin Williamson, has led Project Gemini from the beginning, and explains:
"We wanted to initiate the project based around the idea of extending the co-operation we show on the battlefield. We fight together and it’s only right that we should heal together."
In late October Project Gemini went to Tucson, Arizona with Colin and five blind veterans, together with two of our staff members, making the journey across 'The Pond'.
One of those on the trip was blind veteran Stephen, (57) who served in the Royal Tank Corps as a tank driver during tours of Germany, Belize, Canada and Cyprus. He began to lose his sight around ten years ago due to diabetic retinopathy, and joined Blind Veterans UK in 2013. This was his first trip as part of Project Gemini and he was very impressed with the organisation of the trip,
"The arrangements were tip top. The staff accompanying us were always there to help. I loved all the banter. They were a good bunch of lads."
They were guests of the Blinded Veterans Association and their first visit was to the Blind Rehabilitation Centre in Tucson for a tour, where Stephen had a go at copper tooling.
Later in the week, they were taken to an old film-set in the Tucson desert where lots of cowboy movies were made. Stephen, an aficionado of western movies, said:
"I loved seeing where those movies were made, the sets are so realistic."
He also enjoyed visiting Tombstone, home of the infamous Gunfight at the OK Corral and felt the bullet holes in the walls and bar, courtesy of some over-exuberant cowboys on a night out after a hard day in the saddle.
At the outset Stephen did not know anyone else in the group except Colin, but said that everyone got on fine immediately , the camaraderie of ex-military being so strong.
He was amazed at the size of Pima Air and Space Museum, “It is spread over 80 acres of desert and contains over 300 aircraft”. Our veterans were given a guided tour and introduced to retired U S Air Force Colonel Richard Bushong, who fought in three wars - Second World War, Korea and Vietnam. He talked about flying the immense Boeing B-17 Fortress bomber in raids over Germany, France and Holland during his time with the 390th Bomb Group based at Framlingham Airbase, near Ipswich. As Stephen said,
"This guy had our total respect. He really knew what he was talking about."
Stephen says joining Blind Veterans UK was life changing for him.
"I had to be really pushed into going to the induction week at the charity’s Llandudno centre but as soon as I walked through the door my life changed. I spoke to some of the elderly blind veterans there and realised they had gone through far more than me. I straight away changed my view and began to accept my sight loss. With acceptance came the desire to move forward. The charity has given me my confidence back."
Stephen has been back to our Llandudno centre six times for activity weeks. He said, “I really enjoy mosaicking which I was taught there. I bought an old table from a charity shop, stripped it back and mosaicked the top. It is shabby chic!”