Friday, November 11, 2011

Veterans Day Read...Soldiers to the Summit

Veterans Day 2011...the most appropriate day to repost the Outside Magazine article on our Soldiers to the Summit climb last year in Nepal.
This article, written by Brian Mockenhaupt, himself an Iraq war veteran, provides great insight into the trip itself but more importantly the struggles that veterans face on their return home from combat. It's not easy and there are many struggles for certain. Our attempt at using mountains as a medium for therapy is front and center. We use the framework of the Heroes Journey for these soldiers as they return from battle.
These S2S expeditions are so much more than climbing a peak. We are challenging these men and women to look inside and see what's still available and how to access it.
The film that was made on last year's climb is close to finished. We hope that High Ground will also be a wonderful rehabilitative tool for use at Warrior Transitional Units around the country as well as an opportunity for civilians to get a look inside the head of a returning veteran.
Thank a Vet today. Because of them, we walk, talk and act with freedom.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Service and Gratitude

When Veterans Day rolls around every year I always feel the same few emotions begin to surface. Every year...same ones.

I always feel very fortunate and blessed... that I was simply, out of mere dumn luck, born in a country that provides basic needs to MOST of it’s inhabitants. Where I can enjoy the freedom to vote, to outwardly quench my spiritual thirst without fear of condemnation as well as make a living by doing something as ridiculous as climbing mountains and talking about it to companies. Not many countries in the world where all of these pursuits are available to it’s citizens. For that, I am grateful.

I always feel a great sense of gratitude... to the “greatest generation” grandfather and his colleagues. Men (as well as their families that supported them) that fought against tyranny with a sense of bravery that we very rarely see anymore. It was because of their actions that we live the way that we do. They were selfless and committed to a cause that was far beyond them as individuals....before the era of social media and big screen documentaries. They are how I define hero and I feel we owe it all to them.

I always feel a sense of regret... wondering what my life would have been like should I have chosen to enlist out of high school after many meetings with the recruiters. This was Top Gun flying jets in the Navy sure seemed like a cool job. I think I was scared. Scared of what it would take to make the military my life...perhaps I wasn’t strong enough or brave enough to see it through. Watching my cousin Jean fight like hell to become one of a handful of female fighter pilots in the Air Force proved to me that with an extreme level of dedication as well as what can only be determined a high level of skill, one can achieve those far off dreams. Jean went for it and was rewarded with countless hours of flying some of the most sophisticated machines that we have ever built. I am awed by her commitment to her career and part of me wonders...what was keeping me from following that same path (one clear thing is, Jean is smarter than me by an order of magnitude).

I always feel a great sense of respect... to the men and women that have recently or currently serve. Without a draft, everyone that wears or has worn the uniform in recent decades signed on the dotted line and committed to put service before personal needs. I respect the sense of loyalty to the guy (or gal) that serves right next to you. How it really all comes down to putting your team before your own aspirations and in their case, safety and wellbeing. I respect and honor what it takes to be away from family for months on voluntarily put yourself in harms way, although service men and women do it for a far more honorable reason than simply climbing a big peak.

For all of these reasons, I know that I need to do something to say thanks in the only way I know how... to take some of these remarkable folks up to the high places and provide them the venue to challenge themselves and in some cases reclaim what was once theirs.

Last year’s Soldiers To The Summit (S2S) project was born from all of these emotions. Erik Weihenmayer and I, with the help of World TEAM Sports and some of our Everest buddies, brought together a group of injured vets to climb a big Himalayan Peak. The resulting documentary, High Ground should be released to the public next summer and will capture the challenges that many injured vets experience when they return from combat.

We are currently in the planning stages of the follow up on last years project that will take place in Ecuador. We will be bringing a few of the participants from last year’s climb to serve as mentors for a new group of injured soldiers that represent the spirit of S2S to climb Cotopaxi in December 2012.

If you happen to experience any of the emotions that I mention above when this day of recognition rolls around and would like to show your own gratitude...our S2S project is a great opportunity.

Do you know an injured vet? Send him/her over to the S2S website to apply for one of the spots for next year’s adventure.

Do you have a relationship with a company that is looking to participate in a social responsibility project with a backbone to it? There are many ways in which corporate America can get involved in our project...sponsor a soldier, promote the trip, secure corporate relationships... and the list goes on.

To show gratitude is important...saying thanks is great. Acting on it is felt deeply. Tell a veteran that you are grateful in a way that is impactful.