MOUNT RAINIER, Wash. (7/25/2011) - On any clear Washington day,
looking to the East will grant the eye of the beholder a majestic
view of Mount Rainier, which stands tall over Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
The mountain is symbolic of the uphill battle wounded veterans must
face after loyally dedicating their lives to defending the freedoms
of the United States of America. These courageous war veterans, who
have selflessly gone overseas time after time to honor the nation's
values, were given the challenge to overcome the odds, to prove the
disbelievers wrong, and to see if they still have what it takes to
be on top of the world.
Camp Patriot's mission is to give
back to those brave service men and women who have paid a tremendous
price for American's freedoms. They provide veterans with fishing
trips, big-game hunting, 500-mile motorcycle rides, and mountain
climbing excursions. The vision of
is to facilitate the transition from veteran's past to their future
and to expand their view of life.
Since 2007, the non-profit
corporation has sponsored the annual climb of Mount Rainier's
14,411-foot summit. Only 50 percent of climbers reach the summit,
proving the significance of the challenge that lies ahead.
July 9, a team of wounded warriors, medically retired Staff Sgt.
Eric Cowin, Sgt. Derrick Ford and retired Master Sgt. Gil “Mag”
Magallanes Jr., joined Camp Patriot to meet this challenge at the
foot of Mount Rainier.
“It's critical in their
rehabilitation,” said Micah Clark, founder and executive director of
Camp Patriot. “The idea is to stretch the imagination, to get them
out there, and create that hope and light at the end of the tunnel.”
Eric Cowin's uphill climb began on a 130-degree day in Baghdad,
Iraq, June 9, 2009, with 2nd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division. Fifty
meters was all that stood between Cowin and the convoy's completion
that day, when his vehicle was deliberately struck by an explosively
“I couldn't feel my legs,” said Cowin. “I
couldn't feel my whole body.”
Cowin's left leg was severely
injured in the blast. Remaining calm and in charge while in
extraordinary pain, he took control of the situation and got his
soldiers back to base.
“I knew what was going on,” said Cowin.
“It was my second deployment.”
Cowin's left foot was
amputated on June 17, 2009.
Derrick Ford's journey began in
the Kandahar province in Afghanistan, Aug. 14, 2009. His platoon was
conducting route reconnaissance when his Stryker armored fighting
vehicle rolled over a pressure plate improvised explosive device.
“I only recall dust being thrown everywhere and an incredible
pain in my feet,” said Ford.
Before he received medical
attention, Ford assessed the situation, crawled out of the top of
his Stryker and attempted to secure the convoy.
next 14 months at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in rehabilitation,
Ford worked to save his leg. He was recently married prior to the
deployment, and his wife Michelle was expecting twins.
my kids were born, it was kind of a reality check,” said Ford. “I
just decided, cut the leg off, I'm walking before my kids do.”
Ford's left leg was amputated on Oct. 9, 2009, forever changing
“I have made it my mission since I have started
walking again that I would make the most of my life and everything I
can to prove to myself that I am not disabled, but only wounded,”
said Ford. “I hope this climb up Mount Rainier will be another step
I take of a long line of adventures in my life.”
Magallanes Jr. served 21 years on active duty as a Green Beret in
the Special Forces. Mag was guarding the president of Afghanistan,
Hamid Karzai, when he was injured by friendly fire after a
2000-pound bomb was dropped on his team's position.
sustained multiple injuries to include traumatic brain injury. After
a lot of therapy and hard work, Mag is once again competing in
triathlons and exploring the great outdoors.
American patriots united by valor on the battlefield, teamed up with
Micah Clark and the Camp Patriot team to rise above the clouds.
“At first it was just kind of a bucket list thing,” said Ford.
“I've been through airborne school, jumped out of perfectly good
airplanes, dove at Guantanamo Bay. The next thing was to climb a
The adventure kicked off in Ashford, Wash., where
members prepared their gear and assembled their teams for the climb
early the following morning. The support team was comprised of
members of the Special Forces community, led by Staff Sgt. Edward
Grondin, 1st Special Forces Group. This team unselfishly provided
support to the Camp Patriot team mission by hauling gear and
supplies up Mount Rainier.
For Grondin, this will be his
fourth year supporting the climb. He has poured his blood, sweat and
tears into the organization and donates the proceeds of his custom
woodworking company to further support this mission of outdoor
“I have very rarely met an
organization run by people who genuinely put their entire self into
it,” said Grondin. “If I'm able to be here, I'll be here every
The sun rose the next morning which provided clear
blue skies for the climbers to begin the 4.5-mile hike up the Muir
Snowfield to Camp Muir, located on the Cowlitz Glacier at an
elevation of 10,080 feet. With an average of nearly 75-pounds per
rucksack, the teams marched up the steep slopes of Rainier with
determination in their hearts.
The mountaineers trudged
through the snow, one foot in front of the other, while navigating
through clouds and over rocks and ice. After nearly seven grueling
hours of climbing, the teams made it to Camp Muir with enough energy
left to set up camp.
The next day was focused on summit
training, during which four-person rope teams simulated falling down
slopes and using themselves as anchors on the edge of the mountain.
These new mountaineers got the opportunity to experience being
harnessed into the rope, working with ice axes, and traversing up
and down the mountain. As the training continued, the visibility
diminished as the clouds crept in.
The climb to summit was to
begin at 11 p.m. The teams went to sleep that afternoon without
knowing if the weather would allow them to face the challenge of
navigating the most heavily glaciated peak in the United States.
The anticipation of reaching the summit mounted during the wait.
The words of doubters began to ring in Ford's ears.
think you're ready for Mount Rainier,” someone said to him as he
trained for the climb earlier this year.
Mother Nature would
soon let Ford know if she would grant him the chance to prove the
Early into the night the weather started
to clear up, and the green light was given for the summit challenge
Like fireflies on a July night, each team member
flicked on their headlamp to illuminate the steep, icy path which
lay ahead. Ice axes in hand, the teams set off into the dead of
night. As their journey elevated them high above the clouds, the
temperatures dropped to below freezing.
The piercing sound of
the ice axes being plunged into the frozen ground was all that could
be heard over the bitter, howling wind that whipped harder and
faster as the climbers approached the summit.
The rising of
the sun illuminated a whole new world, high above the clouds, for
the climbers to experience. After nearly eight hours of continuous
inching along, Camp Patriot reached the summit. Just like that,
after all the pain and hard work, there was just one more step to
take before completing this accomplishment of a lifetime.
“Who needs two legs?” shouted Ford in jubilation, as he stepped onto
the summit. “My injury doesn't stop me at all.”
Cowin grabbed Camp Patriot's flag and raised it high above the
clouds of Washington State.
“Every day's a challenge,” said
Cowin. “I was happy I finally made it.”
climbed to about 13,000 feet before traversing back down to Camp
Camp Patriot founder Micah Clark's goal to create
positive, life changing outdoor experiences has once again come to
These American patriots have not given up on life
due to the extent of their injuries, instead they have taken the
world by its reins.
“It's inspirational on so many levels,”
said Grondin. “It inspires me to go back to my day-to-day life and
appreciate the things I do have and to continue to push myself in my
own personal life.”
Open to military veterans from all wars
and generations, Camp patriot continues its mission wholeheartedly
in the attempt to affect more lives.
“We show them that we
love them and that we're patriotic Americans,” said Clark.
For Cowin, Ford, and Mag, more thrilling adventures are just around
Cowin, originally from Grove, Okla., plans to move
to Puerto Rico to get his dive instructor certification. Ford,
raised in southern California, plans to get back into scuba diving.
Mag finished his first 70.3-mile distance triathlon in 2010 and
continues cycling as part of his therapy
By Army Spc. Ryan Hallock
28th Public Affairs Detachment
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