March 29, 2013

Name: Brandon Lingle
Returned from: Iraq and Afghanistan
Hometown: Lompoc, CA
Milblog: USAF Seven Summits Challenge
Email: [email protected]

Framed Lingle SWEAT McKinleyAir Force Senior Master Sgt. Rob Disney has climbed countless mountains, both real and metaphorical, and lately when he says he’s preparing to conquer his personal Mt. Everest, he means it.

The 35-year-old pararescueman, who’s survived a gunshot wound to the face, traumatic brain injury and a broken leg from helicopter falls, torn biceps and a broken arm from parachute mishaps, and a helicopter crash, is one of three  wounded or injured Airmen trekking to Mt. Everest Base Camp with the Air Force 7 Summits Challenge Team in April.

Senior Master Sgt. Disney and his teammates will provide support for the 6 Airmen set to make history when they summit Mt. Everest and become the first U.S. military team to scale the mountain and the first military team in the world to successfully climb the seven summits.

More importantly, these Airmen battling trauma and adversity will exemplify resiliency by testing themselves in the wilderness on a 14-day, 75 mile trek, taking them from 9,000 feet to 17,590 feet above sea level. Driven by the deaths of friends in war, and fueled by personal goals, these Airmen are also motivated by the desire to raise awareness and help vets as well as families of the fallen.

“It's crucial to remember and support the many sets and family members affected by our wars,” said Maj. Rob Marshall, Air Force 7 Summits challenge leader and co-founder. “In these days of budget issues and other distractions, it's easy to focus on the negative.  Our mission is to show people that with some innovation and determination, tempered by an appropriate amount of risk management, they can accomplish any number of positive goals that naysayers deem unobtainable.”

“This trip is another example that there are no limits except those which we place on ourselves,” said Senior Master Sgt. Disney, currently assigned to Air Combat Command Headquarters at Langley Air Force Base, Va., “Dreams are the seeds of reality; the bigger we dream, the bigger our reality becomes. With the courage to let go of our inhibitions and assumptions, there is nothing we can’t achieve.”

The current Air Force 7 Summits Challenge members are:

Summit team

- Maj. Rob Marshall, 34, a CV-22 pilot, from Mercer Island, Wash., stationed in Amarillo, Tex.

- Capt. Andrew Ackles, 29, a TH-1N instructor pilot, from Ashland, Ore., stationed at Fort Rucker, Ala.

- Capt. Marshall Klitzke, 30, a KC-135R pilot from Lemmon, S.D., currently an instructor pilot at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo.

– Captain Kyle Martin, 29, a T-38A instructor pilot and mission commander from Manhattan, Kan., currently flying at Langley Air Force Base, Va.

- Capt. Colin Merrin, 28, a GPS satellite operations mission commander from Santee, Calif., stationed at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo.

- Staff Sgt. Nick Gibson, 36, a reserve pararescueman and physician-assistant student from Gulf Breeze, Fla., stationed at Patrick Air Force Base, Fla.

 Wounded or injured Everest Base Camp trekkers

- Capt. Augustin “Gus” Viani, 28, a Combat Rescue Officer, stationed at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz.
- Senior Master Sgt. Robert Disney, 35, a pararescueman, from Bethany, Ill., stationed at Air Combat Command Headquarters at Langley Air Force Base, Va.
- Master Sgt. Gino (last name and details withheld for operational security)

Other base camp trekkers

- Maj. Malcolm Scott Schongalla, 34, Air Guard LC-130 pilot, from Lebanon, N.H., serving at Stratton Air National Guard base, N.Y.

- Capt. Megan Harkins, 27, Multi-Mission Space Operations Center Ground Engineer, from San Ramon, Calif., stationed at Schriever Air Force Base, Colo.
- Capt. Heidi Kent, 31, Reserve Payload Systems Operator, from Conway, Mass., stationed at Schriever AFB, Colo.

- Dr. Edie Marshall, 38, veterinarian and public health expert from Davis, Calif.

Framed Lingle SWEAT Denali“I truly believe in the medicinal value of sweat and mountains," says Maj. Marshall. "These two things have probably saved my life. How cool would it be if doctors prescribed outdoor adventures just like they prescribe anti-depressants and other pills?”

The Air Force 7 Summits challenge is among several programs working to help vets through the outdoors, including Soldiers to Summits, a group “which helps disabled veterans shatter personal barriers and reclaim lives by using mountaineering.” The 2012 documentary High Ground chronicled a Soldiers to Summits expedition on Mt. Lobuche, Nepal.

Recently, the Sierra Club’s Military Families and Veterans Initiative linked up with Veterans Expeditions  to introduce a group of veterans to ice climbing in Montana’s Hyalite Canyon with renowned climber Conrad Anker.

And K2 Adventures is sponsoring a veterans’ climb of Mt. Kilimanjaro, Tanzania in November.

Notably, the Air Force 7 Summits challenge team is set to summit within days of the 50th anniversary of the U.S.’s first Mt. Everest expedition. In 1963, the history-making climbers returned home to “shrugs of indifference” reported the Associated Press in an article about a recent reunion. The leader of the expedition, Norm Dyhrenfurth, 94, said, "Americans, when I first raised it, they said, 'Well, Everest, it's been done. Why do it again?’”

Similar shrugs of indifference likely met the intensifying American involvement in Vietnam in 1963. As Life magazine's history of the war puts it: “Vietnam was on people’s radar, of course, but not as a constant, alarming blip. Military families were learning first-hand (before everyone else, as they always do) that this was no ‘police action.' But for millions of Americans, Vietnam was a mystery, a riddle that no doubt would be resolved and forgotten in time: a little place far away where inscrutable strangers were fighting over... something.’” 

Fifty years on, during the death-throes of America’s longest war, the Afghan odyssey, similar shrugs of indifference often meet veterans, military members, and their families, as the pain and suffering simmers in the background thousands of miles away.

With any luck, the Air Force 7 Summits 2013 Everest expedition will capture people’s imaginations with the potential for achieving greatness. The combat veterans who face this mountain are ready as they finalize their training across the country. Barry C. Bishop, the National Geographic photographer on the 1963 expedition wrote, “Everest is a harsh and hostile immensity. Whoever challenges it declares war. He must mount his assault with the skill and ruthlessness of a military operation. And when the battle ends, the mountain remains unvanquished. There are no true victors, only survivors.” 

With veteran survivors like Senior Master Sgt. Disney on their side, the sky is the limit for the warrior mountaineers of the Air Force 7 Summits team.


The views expressed here are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Air Force, Department of Defense or United States government.


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