The first ever Blind Appalachian Trail (BAT) program was completed in June by seven American and British veterans who completed the mission by rappelling down a 60-foot cliff.
The BAT participants’ completion of the 74-mile hike of Georgia’s section of the Appalachian Trail, run by the Blinded Veterans Association (BVA) Operation Peer Support was successful in its goal of getting visually impaired veterans of various abilities out to experience the trail. The event allowed the participants to overcome their adversities and inspire others.
With the help of a dedicated group of volunteers who prepared the men for their rappelling descent, and support from spectators below, the one-minute drop was an event that these veterans will long remember. Music from a three-member U.S. Coast Guard Pipe Band playing bagpipes as the veterans touched down on terra firma was the icing on the cake.
BVA helps blinded veterans navigate the VA claims system; raises public awareness; advocates for policies and services; offers scholarships and peer support; and offers adventures and activities monthly.
“We go kayaking, hunting, climbing and repelling,” said Operation Peer Support’s Danny Wallace, who served 20-plus years before being wounded in 2003 by a suicide car bomb attack in Iraq.
Wallace enlisted the aid of his old platoon sergeant, Joe Amerling, for help. Amerling is an advisor on the Blind Endeavors Foundation board, a non-profit founded by blind veteran Steve Baskis. Amerling now volunteers for both organizations.
BVA sponsored the walk and Blind Endeavors Foundation provided transportation and support.
When the walkers came into camp each night their tents and cots were already set up. The aroma of a hot meal greeted them, and they were sent off in the morning with a hardy breakfast.
“It was an enlightening experience,” Wallace said. “We may have lost our sight, but we haven’t lost our vision.”