On September 11th, the Sierra Club's Military Families and Veterans Outdoors program, in partnernship with Veterans Expeditions, the American Alpine Club, and Jackson Hole Mountain Guides, pushed up to the summit of the Grand Teton. Standing at 13,775 feet on that day were veterans who had served from 1991 forward. Between us, we were missing a leg, a few fingers, had a spinal issue, Post-Traumatic Stress, depression, and all had battled reintegration issues. I was in the second summit team. The first made it to the top at exactly 8:03 MDT / 10:03 EDT. Ten years to the minute when the last plane hit the World Trade Center on that fateful day. One of our climbers, a young Air Force LT, had been in elementary school, while another, Veterans Expeditions Co-Founder Nick Watson, was in the wilderness at Olympics National Park and did not learn about what happened until 9/13/01.
When the second, third, and fourth summit teams made it, the small summit erupted in cheers, and for some, tears. Everyone was wrapped in an American Flag and big hugs. Climbing the Grand, was no easy feat, but together we did it and together we can overcome so much more. Jackson Hole Mountain Guides put together this short video on the trip: http://vimeo.com/29202058 It is my priviliged profession to help get military families, youth, soldiers, sailors, Airmen, Marines, Coast Guardsman, and veterans outside, but this is not simply a boys and girls club, this is powerful stuff.
If you served, you served as much for the protection of land as you did for country, for what is our country but the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the soil and rocks we step upon? I fought to defend America and that America included the Grand Teton. It was almost as if the mountain itself was thanking us with its beautiful weather and strong steps as we climbed up and rappelled down on 9/11/11.
At the Summit, we ran into a group of high school kids and they asked us why we climbed. I'm not sure if they were ready for the 35 minutes of lectures and stories on recent American history that they got, but they all seemed thankful. Its strange to think that for these young men and women, some as young as 14, they have only lived three to five years of their lives when their Nation was not at war.
This week, I have another elevation to climb, and again, I will be surrounded, just as I was on 9/11/11 with both veterans and non-veterans as we advocate on behalf of the great outdoors to our Nation's elected leaders and various administration officials as part of Great Outdoors America Week. All this week, we'll be working alongside numerous other outdoor conservation and recreation groups to flood the Hill with our message: America needs to get outside and America needs to protect its outside places!
The Summit of Capitol Hill is a very different looking place than the Summit of the Grand Teton, but each, in their own time and in their own way, are important to climb. If we are not living the policies we want to see affected, how can we argue for them? And if we are not willing to present our case before those who might be able to protect and enyhance them, why do we climb, hike, or swim to begin with?
Just as the memories of quite literally thousands climbed with us on 9/11/11, I inivite you to climb with us this week as we march up the Hill to advocate on behalf of all Americans outside. Get outside yourself, write your local municiapl or county representatives, get involved at your local American Legion or VFW to help get veterans outside, call your Congressperson or Senator and encourage them to do all they can to support America's Great Outdoors!