My Great Aunt Mildred who served in WW2, lived in Tokyo for four years following the end of the war, skied Hokkaido, and in her 80s began a travel schedule that included Egypt, Papua New Guinea, and China amongst others, is one of the heroes I have long looked up to and hoped to emulate in my own journey through this amazing world. She’s now a spry 95 and living alone on a farm in south central Minnesota where she still tends to her fields in a golf cart. She will wear you out with activity if you get the chance to visit.
In honor of Aunt Mildred and all the women in my life who have inspired me, challenged me, and pushed me forward in my own career and personal life, I wanted to share a big thank you during Women’s History Month to the just as many women as men, who have made a great impact on what otherwise might be viewed as a proto typical man’s career in the military, design and planning, and the great outdoors. As with any list of this sort, there will be unfortunate omissions and it by no means is the definitive list of women who have had a tremendous impact on my life.
Not withstanding the incredible impact of my amazing wife, my Mom (who raised two hellions), all my aunts and cousins, I have been surrounded by barrier breaking women as long as I’ve had a memory.
As a young Captain being asked to step up and lead an intelligence team in Bosnia in 2003, I was in turn led and mentored by now COL Karen Bridges. COL Bridges helped shaped my critical thinking and decision making skills, taught me how to stay calm under pressure and pushed me to maintain my integrity and honesty in the often morally ambiguous world of intelligence operations.
In graduate school after my time in Iraq, it was none other than Lucinda Sanders, the CEO and Partner of world-class design firm, Olin, who proved to be one of the most demanding, consistent and compassionate instructors I ever had. Not unlike COL Bridges, I’d gladly follow Cindy into battle. She forged me into a better person.
After graduate school I would have been lost out in the woods without Tamara Naumann, a biologist at Dinosaur National Monument. Under her own initiative, Tamara developed a program to support veterans in reintegration through service work in the Monument. Learning from Tamara as she wended our way safely down a raging river and led us in an incredible week of physical labor for the betterment of the Monument, helped solidify my personal and professional trajectory in 2010.
Also in 2010, Nick Watson and I had the bright idea to start Veterans Expeditions. It was Deanne Buck, then of the American Alpine Club, now the Executive Director of the Outdoor Industry Women’s Coalition, who was one of our strongest supporters and advocates inside the AAC and who has remained a mentor, friend, and connector. And on our first big climb, it was Vietnam Veteran Heidi Baruch who was the heart and soul of our expedition team.
There’s also the amazing team of Ann Krcik, Blaire Witte, and Brook Hopper at The North Face. Though Brook has moved on since we first met, these three women have been incredible advocates for supporting military service members, veterans, their families, youth, and everyone in general outdoors. Ann is an incredible leader in the outdoor industry and is more than generous with her time and wisdom in helping me forge my own path.
Speaking of getting outdoors, I’d be remiss without mentioning my great colleagues at the Sierra Club and those women I get to work with (or used to get to work with) closest on a daily or weekly basis at the Sierra Club: Mel Mac Innis, Debra Asher, Jackie Ostfeld, Jennifer Edwards, Stephanie Linder, Mary Nemerov, Gabrielle Rierra, Juana Torres, Allison Chin, Tiffany Saleh, Kristina Ortez de Jones and Kristi Rummel. I could list every woman at the Club; it is an incredible group of women making positive history every day! And have you met Rue Mapp? CEO of OutdoorAfro? A phenomenal partner and friend.
As I try and wrap up this thank you note to amazing women, I realize how many people I’ve left off the list, women like BriGette McCoy, Genevieve Chase, and Raven Bukowski; three great women I got to serve with or work with now in the veteran community. Women like my sophomore year English teacher, know just as Gerb, who I still visit when I go home to South Dakota or Judy Kroll and Sally Pies, my high school speech coaches and Annie Lett, my high school swim coach, the women at Blue Star Families, National Military Family Association, Military Spouse Magazine, the YMCA, and the list continues on…women rock!
Thanks Ladies for helping to point a direction into the wild and encourage me when the going got tough with your wisdom and energy. I couldn’t do it without y’all. None of us could.
Heidi Baruch on a climb in Rocky Mountain National Park with veteran Ian Smith and myself showing her some love in 2010.