Old Glory and the Passing of the Torch at an Important Veteran’s Organization

  • Since its founding in 1985, BAVF has made major strides toward achieving its goals of advanced research, improved rehabilitation programs and wider re-employment opportunities.
  • According to Shaft, “personality is the side you show people. Conversely,” Shaft would opine, “Character is what a blind man sees in you.”
  • Michael’s favorite saying is, “It wasn’t until I lost my sight, that I gained my vision.”

Our National Colors are sometimes referred to as “Old Glory.” Well, Old Glory has a birthday. Flag Day is celebrated on June 14. It commemorates the adoption of the flag of the United States on June 14, 1777 by resolution of the Second Continental Congress. The United States Army also celebrates the U.S. Army birthday on this date.

The Blinded American Veterans Foundation assists blinded and sensory-disabled veterans in attaining their full potential through research, rehabilitation, and re-employment. It offers employment networking and rehabilitation and resource counseling, and provides funding for rehabilitation centers. Other programs include placement services and a compilation of related statistics. It also conducts research, educational, and charitable programs. This valuable service is performed strictly with volunteers and no paid staff.

However, this Flag Day as I have been honored for many previous years, I accepted my invitation to Capitol Hill in Washington DC.  The invitation traditionally came at the auspices of the President of the Blinded American Veterans Foundation (202-670-1038). My dear late friend and Marine John Fales aka Sergeant Shaft was the President of the BAVF and Opinion Editor/Columnist at the Washington Times for more than 20 years.

The BAVF concentrates on:

  • Supporting medical research on sensory disabilities, as well as the development of improved sensory prosthetics.
  • Outreach programs to further identify issues of personal importance to veterans with sensory disabilities.Informational programs directed at state and federal government agencies, Congress and state legislatures, the private business sector and the general public.
  • The development of a nationwide volunteer corps to assist veterans with sensory disabilities.

Since its founding in 1985, BAVF has made major strides toward achieving its goals of advanced research, improved rehabilitation programs and wider re-employment opportunities. There will be more articles on the BAVF, Sergeant Shaft, and my consulting of Veteran’s Issues.  For now, I would like to take a moment and honor “Shaft” by sharing some “Shaft Ideals.”

First Shaft encouraged everyone to find something to do that they Love, and then find someone to love. So this article, however counterintuitive for a combat wounded US Army Ranger with 26 years of proud service to write, will be about “Love.”

Marine Band.

John was a colorful, combat-blinded Marine who wrote The Washington Times’ Sgt. Shaft column in order to help military personnel and veterans everywhere.

Fales, lost his sight fighting on the front lines in Vietnam. John and his Cadre of a “Few Good Men and Women” were a fixture on Capitol Hill.  I had the honor and privilege of being a part of that cadre which did advocacy work for those who wore the uniform.

Sgt. Shaft met seven U.S. Presidents along the way in his fight to improve the lives of veterans and create programs to address the range of complex problems we face. Obviously, John loved vets.  He loved being a vet. He loved fighting to get more for those of us who often get so much less when we return to civilian life.

Shaft taught me very simple meanings meanings about personality and character. According to Shaft, “personality is the side you show people. Conversely,” Shaft would opine, “Character is what a blind man sees in you.”

This Flag Day was a bittersweet event. Bending the ears of Department of Veteran Affairs, White House, and Congressional Representatives from the House and Senate, we knew that there was other pressing business to conduct.

Michael Jernigan with Dana Matthews.

We had to honor Sgt. Shaft and install his successor. The general consensus was that we continue business as usual and demonstrate some of that “character” John was always talking about.  So, we got the job done! Now as one of the sighted members of the BAVF, it’s my distinct honor and privilege to introduce to you BAVF President Michael Jernigan.

Jernigan is a Marine who proudly served with Company E 2nd Battalion 2nd Marine regiment. On August 22, 2004 while on a deployment in Iraq, Michael’s platoon was on patrol when it was hit by two 155mm artillery shells buried under the ground.

The Improvised Explosive Device threw him 20 meters from the Humvee. Michael suffered life threatening and life changing injuries that day. Forty five percent of his cranium was crushed in. He had shrapnel enter in his right eye and exit through his left eye, cutting everything in between. He had to have two fingers reattached and his right hand fully reconstructed.

He fractured his patella and cut his femoral artery.  Michael went through 30 major surgeries in the first 12 months and spent 16 months in hospitals and rehab facilities. Since the attack Michael has taken his second chance at life and turned it into something that is never taken for granted. He volunteers his time whenever it is needed and always offers a helping hand.

The mission of Patriot PAWS is to train and provide service dogs of the highest quality at no cost to disabled American veterans and others with mobile disabilities and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in order to help restore their physical and emotional independence. Patriot PAWS intends to build partnerships with local, state and national organizations to help develop and support this goal.

Since being wounded he has graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree from the University of South Florida, was featured in the HBO documentary Alive Day Memories: Home from Iraq, has been a contributing writer to the NYTimes.com, Home Fires blog and was recognized as Learning Ally’s 2012 National Achievement Award winner.

For his dedication and continual community service Michael was awarded the ‘Veteran of the Year Award’ from his hometown of St. Petersburg, Florida.  In 2006 Michael co-founded Paws for Patriots at South Eastern Guide Dogs; which provides guide dogs and service animals to veterans. He has touched thousands of lives through his motivational speaking, peer to peer counseling and now his work with the Blinded American Veterans Foundation and the Corporal’s Corner blog.

Michael’s continued service to others has not gone unnoticed and on November 9, 2017 Michael was awarded ‘The Ross Perot Patriot award.’ He has turned the most traumatic experience of his life into a life filled with a new purpose; to help others gain their vision.

Michael’s favorite saying is, “It wasn’t until I lost my sight, that I gained my vision.” Too often people solely rely on their eyes to see, but miss out on life’s most precious moments, the ones you can’t see, but only feel.  Michael truly embodies what it means to be a Marine: Honor, Courage, Commitment”.

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Dana Matthews

Dr Dana Matthews is a Lieutenant Colonel, US Army Ranger (Retired). He holds a BA in Journalism, an MBA/JD Law Degree, and a Doctorate in Organizational Psychology.

He is a Member of the National Press Club in Washington DC and has appeared on TV and Radio.

He was awarded the Military Order of the Purple Heart for Combat Wounded Veterans.

Dr Dana Matthews is a well published Journalist and writer with articles appearing in the Scripps Newspaper/ TCPALM.COM

He also co authored and published a novel entitled " El Segundo- One Man's Journey for Redemption". 


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