In January 2010, Private Ken Facal was on foot patrol in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.
It was night and he was operating as point man – the first and therefore most exposed soldier in a patrol –when he spotted an improvised explosive device in the Taleban compound they were clearing.
"Whenever a soldier spots such a device, his immediate response is always one of relief. It means you’re doing your job properly because you’ve found out it’s there before it’s too late."
Ken told comrades to back away. He was kneeling down, his colleague and now fellow blind veteran, Corporal Billy Drinkwater was standing behind him, marking the IED’s location when it detonated.
Ken woke up from being in a coma a month later.
"I was glad to be alive but also apprehensive because how bad was it? I had lost the sight in my right eye and only had a little bit left in the other. My legs and stomach were also messed up and I had to have lots of operations."
He remembers, “It was a tough time, I felt sad and helpless. I didn’t know who was who because I couldn’t see their faces”. Billy, too was in Birmingham and, already friends, they became very good mates, supporting one another through their rehab.
Ken says: “During the first year after the accident I became really close with my mum. She stopped working for three months so that she could visit me in hospital every day. I couldn’t stand the hospital food so she would cook food she knew I liked and bring it in for me to eat instead!”
Ken’s mum, Neomi Green, recalls, “As a mother, it was so difficult to see my son in pain and come to terms with the realisation that the last time he could see me had been before he went off to serve. I knew that I had to be strong for him. I did not want him to see me cry. He has come such a long way since joining Blind Veterans UK. He has grown so much in confidence with their help”.
"The charity visited me straightaway in hospital. Then I went to the charity’s centre in Brighton. It was so inspiring. Chatting with the veterans. Watching the camaraderie. Knowing that there was hope for the future."
Ken continues: “The charity has taught be how to cook for myself. How to use IT. They’ve shown me how to get back my independence. To be able to go out without always having to rely on someone else. “
Today, Ken still cannot read small type or discern the details of someone’s face. He laughs about the time he went on a bike ride as part of his rehabilitation, and didn’t spot a speed bump as he was going downhill. “I hit it full-on, came off my bike, hit the concrete face-first, unconscious, lost a tooth and my artificial eye came out,” he says with some pride. “An off-duty paramedic stopped and picked me up, and he thought, ‘Oh my God! He’s lost an eye!’ I had to send the other guys back to go and look for it afterwards.”
Ken has taken part in many activities and occasions through our charity. He celebrated his 30th birthday at the Patron’s Lunch which took place on the Mall outside Buckingham Palace organised to celebrate, the 90th birthday of, our then Patron, Her Majesty the Queen in June 2016.
Ken says: “I’ve met a fair few of the Royal Family – I met Prince Charles whilst I was in hospital and later met Princess Ann as well as Prince Harry. It’s great to see that they’re so supportive of the Armed Forces.”
He has attended the Remembrance Day marches at the Cenotaph on many occasions with us too.
Ken feels sports and fitness is a big thing for infantry guys and still enjoys challenging himself. “I am stronger now than I was before. I do a bit of fitness instructing and do events every Saturday for people of all ages and fitness levels and train those with disabilities. It feels good to do it myself and I want to share that with others.
"I was used to others helping me for so long it feels good to be able to go out and do things on my own. With the help of Blind Veterans UK I could finally enjoy life again and push past my blindness."