Club Partners with Veterans in Ascent of Grand Teton to Commemorate 9/11
On September 11, 2011—the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks—the Sierra Club's Military Outdoors program partnered with Veterans Expeditions of Boulder, Colorado, in recruiting and training eight veterans to summit the Grand Teton in Wyoming.
Stacy Bare, Military Families and Veterans Affairs Representative for the Sierra Club, helped train the climbers and accompanied them on the ascent of the Grand Teton. A former U.S. Army Captain and Bronze Star recipient, Bare served in Bosnia and Iraq, and spent time as a civilian explosive ordnance disposal technician in Angola and the Republic of Georgia.
Bare was serving in the Individual Ready Reserve when he was called back to active duty in late 2005. He was the Director of National Programs for Veterans Green Jobs before starting Veterans Expeditions. That's Bare pictured above, and below at center with other members of the Grand Teton expedition. The Grand Teton is the second peak from the right in the background.
Here is Bare's account of the expedition:
The program started four months before the actual climbing event through outreach to the military and veteran community to get them hiking and working towards the summit attempt of the Grand Teton. The team trained all summer in the Colorado high country with Colorado Wilderness Rides and Guides of Boulder, and in Wyoming with Jackson Hole Mountain Guides. The training paid off with an efficient team effort on summit day.
This team of veterans had endured the hardships of military service, fought through the struggles of a difficult transition back to civilian life, and climbed with the thoughts of all those who could not join us. The fallen, the broken, the suffering, were all there with us in our hearts.
We climbed for all those who have suffered as a result of 9/11/01. We climbed with post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injury, prosthetic legs, missing fingers, and broken bodies disabled by roadside bombs. We climbed so that other veterans would be motivated to get off the couch and regain that fire again. We climbed to reverse the negative statistics that plague the veteran community. We climbed to raise our arms on the summit and bring a positive experience to this difficult day in our nation's history.
Prior to the summit attempt, John Spahr, chair of the Sierra Club's Teton Group, came into fellowship with the team. (That's Spahr, pictured below.) A former mountain guide, Spahr has long been active as an environmental advocate on behalf of the Tetons. At the team dinner prior to the ascent, he shared his experience and expertise with the team and took questions about his work.
It was critical that Spahr was able to easily relate to the veterans and their military experience. The team learned that you could be a veteran and an environmentalist. They made a connection to the mountain they climbed and the ecology of the Tetons. In retrospect, it would have been great if Spahr had participated in the climb itself.
Since the climb, several of the vets who made the ascent have joined the Sierra Club, and they have spread the word to hundreds of men and women in their personal lives and their platoons about what the Sierra Club is doing to support the military and veterans. Coming from veterans, this has greatly bolstered the reputation of the Club's Military Families Outdoors program in the military community as a real provider of services that helps connect people to the land they fought to defend.
Critical to the success of this project was that we offered an exciting, engaging activity that would excite veterans and military community members. Involving a volunteer like John Spahr who could relate to the team was invaluable.
One challenge we met along the way is that many veterans and military members do not see themselves as environmentalists—in fact, many did not believe they were even capable of being environmentalists. This climb changed that mindset and shifted the discussion about what an environmentalist could be.
It was important in this process to ensure that press partners knew and used the Sierra Club's name as a partner in the project. However, the next time we do this kind of event we would get logos out earlier and make sure logos are on T-shirts ahead of time, not after the event.
It takes a lot of time to involve the military/veteran community, and it's important not to make an immediate environmental ask of the participants. Instead, share information, be balanced, and recognize differences in opinion. Have fun! Get outside!