Even though I was on active duty from 2000-04, the Army saw fit to keep me in the rear with the gear, giving me a concession prize for a deployment to Bosnia-Herzegovina for the winter of 03-04. I was shattered. This was my generation’s war and I wanted to play my part before it was all over. I thought we had 18 months, two years at best in each country. When I took my uniform off in 2004, despite our recent invasion in Iraq, and on going trials in Afghanistan, I assumed the wars would be over soon and I had missed out on the defining moment of my generation.
It was with a strange sense of relief that at the end of 2005 I got recalled from the Individual Ready Reserve to go serve in Iraq. Coming home in 2007, I struggled with what seems to be an all to common host of reintegration, post-traumatic stress, and depression related issues for veterans. It was ultimately the physical land that I defended; specifically the Western mountain ranges, deserts, and rivers that gave me a sense of coming home, healing, and semblance of reintegration in to America.
It was this sense of a second chance at life, a new mission in the outdoors and in the countryside I defended, which allowed me to come home and not just survive, but also thrive. In an effort to ensure other veterans could have the same experience, and to call attention to the value of our great outdoor places in this country, fellow veteran Nick Watson and I launched our first 9/11 Climb up Longs Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park in 2010 with eight other veterans.
Last year, eight veterans made the summit of the Grand Teton. Our first summit team capped the mountain 10 years to the minute United Airlines Flight 175 crashed into the South Tower at 9:03 Eastern / 7:03 Mountain time. It was an amazing experience and this year, six organizations, supporting four teams will mountains in the North Cascades, Grand Tetons, San Juans, and Presidentials from the Pacific to Eastern time zones. The Sierra Club’s Mission Outdoors, Veterans Expeditions, Paradox Sports, Big City Mountaineers, Sportainability and Telluride Adaptive Sports will all be taking veterans to the top of mountains in a model of cooperation and collaboration to serve and support our military community. We truly are one this day.
On this 9/11, you can join us by taking some time to reflect on what makes us America the Beautiful and why it is worth defending. Ask yourself what you can do, what we can all do, to not just reach back and find the unity we felt in the days following September 11th, but how in the pursuit of standing on tops of mountains, running down rivers, or just standing in the wild places and parks of our cities, states, and nation, we can build a more perfect unity for generations to come.