In Basra, 2006, a sniper's bullet almost totally blinded Simon.
Simon Brown was a corporal in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers attached to 2 Lancs in Iraq when he sustained facial injuries during a rescue mission in Basra. Simon lost his left eye and has only 20 per cent vision in his right.
On the day of his injury, Simon had successfully rescued six of his colleagues whose vehicle had broken down. As he was withdrawing from the area, he was hit by sniper fire. A bullet entered his left cheek and exited through his right cheek, shattering both cheekbones, destroying his left eye and severely damaging his right eye.
Simon's colleagues rushed him to emergency treatment at nearby Basra Palace, where he was given a lifesaving tracheotomy to let him breathe. Then he was airlifted by helicopter to the base hospital where he had the first of many operations to rebuild his face. A day later he was transferred back home for further treatment and rehabilitation at the UK's Selly Oak hospital. His cheekbones and nose were reconstructed using titanium, his jaw broken and remoulded and a prosthetic eye fitted.
Simon's first visit to Blind Veterans UK was to our Sheffield centre for training where he received a great deal of practical support. This included a rehabilitation programme to help him adjust to sight loss and go on to live independently.
As well as practical support we also gave Simon emotional care through regular contact with a dedicated welfare officer. Simon said: "As well as all the invaluable and practical support offered by Blind Veterans UK, it was the sense of belonging and understanding from their community that's really helped me to stay positive. I'm a member of the younger Blind Veterans Group; we meet up to discuss new ideas and initiatives, share a joke and keep each other smiling."
Speaking about his seven month service in Iraq, Simon said: "My experience there was very challenging; it changed me as a person. The invasion stage of my deployment was in actual fact less difficult than the peacekeeping stage. We were trained to invade and fight whereas the re-building stage was something we were not used to doing.
"One day I was fighting a war, the next I was giving out water, and helping to re-build a community. A very sudden transition was asked of us when the invasion stage was over, and we had to suddenly change our whole approach and act with a solely compassionate and helpful attitude.
"More than anything, the kinship I felt during my time out there was extraordinary. You get to know the people you serve with better than you know yourself. It was excellent getting the opportunity to form those kinds of friendships.
"I do feel a real sense of achievement when I think about my time In Iraq, and I know that my comrades feel this too. We went in there and did exactly what was asked of us. Seeing the real jubilation on the faces of the Iraqis and hearing them shout 'liberation' through the streets, is something I will never forget".
Since receiving support from Blind Veterans UK Simon has been able to regain his independence and self confidence, and now, six years after he first requested our free support, he works full time in Blind Veterans UK's Headquarters as a Memberships Officer, responsible for recruiting more blind veterans.
Simon said: "Iraq changed me just as much mentally as it did physically, and ten years on the scars are still there. Blind Veterans UK helped me through the very worst times and for that I am very grateful. Supporting the charity by working at it and trying to spread the word about its work as much as I can is my way of saying thank you for everything they have given me".
As a testament to his growing confidence, Simon was recognised for his contribution to charity with a General Officer Commanding Commendation.
We launched the No One Alone campaign to reach out to more people like Simon. It is estimated that there are 68,000 plus blind veterans who could be eligible for our help but are unaware of it. If you know someone who served in the Armed Forces or National Service who now suffers with sight loss (including age-related sight loss) request our free support by calling 0800 389 7979.