Blind veteran to celebrate his birthday with the Queen at Patron’s Lunch on the mall

An Afghanistan war veteran will be celebrating his 30th birthday at the Patron's Lunch organised to celebrate the 90th birthday of Her Majesty The Queen this June (12/6) together with other veterans supported by Blind Veterans UK.

 

The lunch will be taking place on the Mall outside Buckingham Palace and is being held to recognise the more than 600 organisations that hold The Queen's patronage.

 

Ken Facal

 

Ken Facal, 29, has been invited to represent Blind Veterans UK, the national charity for blind and vision-impaired ex-Service men and women, which has had The Queen as its Patron throughout her reign.

 

Ken joined the Army in 2004 when he was just 17 years old where he became part of the Royal Anglian Regiment. He went on several operational tours including Iraq and two tours in Afghanistan.

 

Ken says: "We were frontline troops and got face to face with the enemy. For Afghanistan I was the lead man to clear the path for the rest of the troops to prevent them from getting blown up by an Improvised Explosive Device (IED)."

 

In January 2010, Ken was in charge of clearing Taliban compounds not far from their camp during a night-time operation. He cleared the first compound but when they got to the second compound something was not right.

 

Ken says: "When we got to the second compound the front gate was open, which was weird. I checked and got a high reading, which meant there was an IED there. I told them to push back in case it went off and I went on to clear it together with my Section Commander who stayed with me for cover.

 

"I went to mark the device and it went off. We got blown back 10 meters - I was in so much pain but didn't know what was happening. They couldn't give me anything for the pain as I wasn't allowed to fall asleep. They forced me to count as I was slipping away."

 

Ken woke up a month later and upon regaining consciousness he thought he was back in camp Bastion and it all happened yesterday. Instead, he had been in a coma for a month and was back in the UK.

 

Ken says: "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.

"It was a tough time, I felt sad and helpless. I didn't know who was who because I couldn't see their faces. I usually asked people to stay on my left because I still had some vision in my left eye - I was quite lucky that way.

 

"Blind Veterans UK visited me and explained what they could do for me. I had a lot on my plate to relearn, but I never lost hope. My brother in arms Billy who got blown up with me was there to support me. He was a bit more mobile because he lost his sight but didn't have any other injuries so he could come and visit me. We stuck together and he spoke so highly of the way Blind Veterans UK had helped him that I couldn't wait to visit the charity's Brighton centre and start my rehabilitation.

 

Ken visited the Blind Veterans UK Brighton centre several weeks at a time for free rehabilitation and training to help him live independently with sight loss.

 

Ken says: "The first time I went to the centre a big tall guy welcomed me and showed me to my room, explaining how everything worked. I later learned that he was blind and I was shocked. He shared his story with me and the fact that he didn't stop living or helping others inspired me. I thought if he can then I can too."

 

What followed for Ken were several training weeks at the Blind Veterans UK centre. He learned IT skills, different sports such as archery and bowling as well as how to cook safely and how to adapt to different environments.

 

He says: "I was used to others helping me for so long it felt good to be able to go out and do things on my own. I could finally enjoy life again and push past my blindness."

 

Ken is looking forward to celebrate his 30th birthday as well as The Queen's 90th birthday together with other veterans supported by Blind Veterans UK. On Sunday 12 June, The Mall in St James's Park will be transformed for its largest ever street party to celebrate The Queen's patronage of more than 600 charities and organisations.

 

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.

 

"I'm excited to go as it's the Queen's birthday as well as mine so we'll be celebrating together! It's an honour to represent Blind Veterans UK as I'm in debt to the charity for everything they taught me and for everything they gave me."

 

Blind Veterans UK was founded in 1915 and the charity's initial purpose was to help and support soldiers blinded in the First World War. But the organisation has gone on to support more than 35,000 blind veterans and their families, spanning the Second World War to recent conflicts including Iraq and Afghanistan.

 

For more than a century, the charity has been providing vital free training, rehabilitation, equipment and emotional support to blind and vision-impaired veterans no matter when they served or how they lost their sight.

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