Wounded Warrior Ties for National Geographic's Adventurer of Year
(March 12, 2010)
|FORT RICHARDSON, Alaska (March 4, 2010) -- Wounded by a
roadside bomb more than three years ago, Lt. Col. Marc
Hoffmeister has surmounted his injuries to tie for the
National Geographic magazine's Reader's Choice Adventurer of
the Year Award.|
Lt. Col. Marc Hoffmeister gathers up rope June 11, 2009 in
Denali National Park, two days before he and two other wounded warriors
successfully reached the summit of Alaska's Mount McKinley. Courtesy photo
Hoffmeister organized a mountaineering team for a Mount McKinley expedition last
year that included four wounded veterans.|
When not on duty as the chief engineer for the Alaskan Command/Joint Task Force
Alaska, he found sponsors for "Operation Denali" and began training a team for
the expedition. Along with Hoffmeister, his wife Gayle and longtime friend Bob
Spc. David Shebib, another wounded warrior
from the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, who suffered
severe head and chest injuries.
Marine Capt. Jon Kuniholm, who lost his right
arm while serving in Iraq.
- Retired Army Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Nyman, who lost his right leg below
the knee while serving in Iraq.
Teamwork Was Key
The climbers had to learn how to use teamwork to mitigate individual
disabilities, Hoffmeister said.
"Who can tie knots for me and for Jon because our hands don't work?" Hoffmeister
asked. "How do we handle load distribution or how do we handle snowshoes for
Matt who's working off of a prosthetic leg? How do we protect Dave's face from
the UV radiation from the snow?"
"It was necessary for all of us to be in tune with where we were at physically
and mentally throughout the climb and then adjust the team's pace or load or
take a rest day based upon how somebody else was doing in the team," he
With Kuniholm succumbing to high altitude pulmonary edema at 16,200 feet, Nyman
suffering from mountain sickness at 17,200 feet and Gayle Hoffmeister showing
signs of mild hypothermia at 18,000 feet, Marc Hoffmeister said only he, Shebib,
Haines and guide Kirby Senden were able to make the summit.
"Your average success rate on Denali for an able-bodied team is 50 percent
regardless," Hoffmeister detailed. "We were at the 50 percent number, not
because of our injuries but because of the beast of altitude."
With a successful ascent for the team June 16, Hoffmeister said he feels the
implications of the achievement reach beyond the members of the team.
|Retired Sgt. 1st Class Bob Haines (holding the
flag), Lt. Col. Marc Hoffmeister (right) and Spc. David Shebib pose
for a picture after Shebib's re-enlistment at the summit of Alaska's
Mount McKinley, June 16, 2009. Courtesy photo
"Our whole experience as a team is a sort of microcosm of what you see in the
Army with all of our wounded warriors and it takes a team to recover," he said.
"It takes a team to have that bond of support, that family to carry you through
the hard times and to encourage you, motivate you and get you to the top,
whether that's a mountain, the top of the stairs or the first time running on
Long Journey Back
Hoffmeister was injured during his second deployment to Iraq with 4th Brigade
Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, based out of Fort Richardson, Alaska. He
was dual-hatted, serving as Task Force Warrior operations officer and deputy
team leader of Military Transition Team 820 partnering with the Iraqi Army's 2nd
Battalion, 2nd Brigade.
Seven months into his deployment, his Humvee was hit by an improvised explosive
device during a routine convoy mission.
"Everyone in the truck was wounded, but we all survived," he said in a stark
voice. "Pretty significant life-altering day. It was definitely intense because
one minute you're feeling on top of your game and somewhat in control of your
destiny and the next day you realize very quickly that you're not."
Hoffmeister said he lost consciousness for a brief period of time before hearing
the MiTT interpreter through his shattered door.
"I came to as the vehicle was careening off the road and looking through a hole
in my arm at my radio, trying to report," Hoffmeister recalled. "My translator
was running next me, next to the truck - he was behind me, the door had been
blown open - and he had dismounted or was thrown out and he's running next to
the truck. The first thing I heard was Sean yelling into my ear...'Sir, sir you
must dismount the vehicle.' It was very surreal."
Hoffmeister rendered self aid before a medevac helicopter took him to a Combat
Support Hospital in Baghdad where he was stabilized and flown to Balad Air Base
bound for Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, Germany. After multiple surgeries,
he was then flown to Madigan Army Medical Center, Fort Lewis, where he was
reunited with wife, Gayle Hoffmeister.
Returning home to Fort Richardson, Hoffmeister said he began a long recovery
process, relying on some tough love from his wife Gayle to scale back on pain
medication and to venture outside of the couple's home to enjoy their shared
passion of the outdoors.
"She's the kind of person who, if she doesn't get out and get any PT, or get
some physical activity or just breathe fresh air, she gets a little spun up," he
elaborated. "So me hanging out on the couch trying to deal with my wounds is
only going to last so long with her. She was a pretty good judge, a better judge
of where I was at than I was."
Despite carrying an antibiotic drip to fight an aggressive enterobacter
infection associated with desert blast injuries, Hoffmeister said he attended
spin class and hiked Crow Pass with his determined spouse.
Hence, climbing Denali came about as a progression of the couple's efforts to
speed his recovery.
"The concept of Denali started when Gayle told me she was climbing Denali and
that was a very perfunctory statement," he related. "There was no questions,
ands, ifs or buts. There wasn't even an invitation. She just told me she was
climbing it. I said, 'OK, not without me.'"
"That was my first thought followed by fear of 'Oh crap, my arm's going to
freeze because I can't feel it' or 'Am I really going to be able to do this?'"
Hoffmeister continued. "From that thought process, I was like 'You know, if I'm
feeling that way, there's probably other folks that feel the same way. Let's
Honor Goes Beyond Team
Hoffmeister's climb up the dangerous West Buttress route of Mount McKinley June
16, tied for National Geographic Reader's Choice Award with engineer Albert
Yu-Min Lin who organized an expedition into northern Mongolia's "Forbidden Zone"
to search for the lost tomb of Genghis Khan using new mapping technologies.
Being named Adventurer of the Year was an honor which has implications for other
wounded warriors, Hoffmeister said.
"The climb wasn't about us," he explained. "One of our goals was to demonstrate
by example that we could overcome any obstacles through perseverance and the
"We also wanted to spread the word, to share our stories and inspire other guys
who are where we were a year, two years ago wondering 'I don't have an arm, what
am I going to do with my life? It's over.' Well, no, the story is not over."
Slated to take command of 6th Engineer Battalion, 3rd Maneuver Enhancement
Brigade, this summer, Hoffmeister recently returned from what he termed a
relaxing vacation climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania, with his wife.
Not content to rest on his crampons, the Army engineer said he would like to
lead another wounded warrior climb up Argentina's 22,000-foot Cerro Aconcaqua,
the highest peak in the Americas.
"There's a lot on my bucket list," he said with a laugh. "I'm an engineer. It's
a big bucket."
By David Bedard
Fort Richardson Public Affairs Office
Army News Service /
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