Ken's story

Ken Facal was badly injured in an IED blast in Afghanistan.
Ken Facal was badly injured in an IED blast in Afghanistan.

Ken joined the 1st Battalion Royal Anglian Regiment in 2004 and did his first tour in Baghdad, Iraq. He did two subsequent tours in Afghanistan but the second was cut short when he was badly injured in an IED blast in his compound on 31 January 2010.

Ken Facal, who was 17 and a half and at college when he decided to join the Armed Forces. He was too young to join the police but decided to join the Army after seeing a big advertising campaign. Ken knew fellow comrade Billy Drinkwater from the start of their time serving in Iraq together and then twice in Afghanistan. Their roles were in Black Ops, where they were responsible for clearing routes of IEDs. Ken tells his account of the day that changed his and Billy's life in Helmand Province, Taliban Compound in January 2011.


Ken said: "Afghanistan was a whole different ball game to Iraq. The first tour was harder. It was full on. You train for it, but nothing prepares you for the reality. When someone shouts 'Man down'! That's something else."


Ken had volunteered to be the point man, the first and therefore most exposed soldier in a patrol and Billy was his cover man behind him. He would have Ken's back and Ken would ask him for advice about the route.


Speaking about the night in the Taliban compound in Helmand Province January 2011 Ken said: "We were ordered out on night patrol ambush. We had no cover. It was midnight. We went to the first compound together and cleared it. We went to the next compound. The front gate was open. We thought it was weird. Could be an IED? Bill stayed with me to cover.


"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.


"We couldn't hear anything and it was hard to see - We were depending on night vision. Then I saw it. A pressure pad. We definitely had an IED on our hands. I knelt up. I couldn't use white light. There might be an ambush. Then there was a massive explosion. We were both thrown 10 meters.


"It was like being punched in the stomach. I screamed. My guts were hanging out. I was bleeding badly. My left arm was broken. I'd lost fingers. I was losing so much blood and they couldn't even give me morphine. It'd slow my already weak heart down too much.


Ken and Billy were flown out on the same helicopter and Ken woke up a month later but said he felt like it all happened yesterday. He was unable to eat when he woke up and suffered with horrific injuries to his eyes. He had two operations to try to save his sight but he did end up losing his right eye.


When Ken eventually woke up he was visited by Blind Veterans UK. Ken said: "Blind Veterans UK visited me straightaway. I remember Simon Brown (Blind veteran and now Memberships Officer at Blind Veterans UK) and a lady coming to chat. I didn't really think about the significance at the time though, it's only after looking back.


"I guess Billy got a bit of a head-start on me! I didn't regain consciousness until a month later. He visited all the time. To keep my spirits up. He spoke so highly of the way Blind Veterans UK had helped him. He said 'do it! Definitely get in touch'. So I did! I loved the camaraderie and right then I knew there was hope for the future.


"Bill and I talked about it a lot. You know, Blind Veterans UK and how they might help us. I went to Blind Veterans UK's centre in Brighton. It was so inspiring. Chatting with the veterans. Watching the camaraderie. Knowing that there was hope for the future."


Ken has been given a talking watch, a magnifier, a touch typing course and cooking courses. On the support he has received, Ken said: "They've shown me how to get back my independence. To be able to go out without always having to rely on someone else."


We launched the No One Alone campaign to reach out to more people like Ken. 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.

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