An Interview with AW2 Soldier LTC Hoffmeister – Part I

The Operation Denali team poses for a photo before their climb. Front row, left to right: Marc Hoffmeister, Gayle Hoffmeister, Todd Tumolo, Dave Shebib, and Matt Nyman. Back row, left to right: Bob Haines, Jon Kuniholm, Matt Montavon, and Kirby Senden. Photo courtesy of LTC Marc Hoffmeister

The Operation Denali team poses for a photo before their climb. Front row, left to right: Marc Hoffmeister, Gayle Hoffmeister, Todd Tumolo, Dave Shebib, and Matt Nyman. Back row, left to right: Bob Haines, Jon Kuniholm, Matt Montavon, and Kirby Senden. Photo courtesy of LTC Marc Hoffmeister

AW2 Soldier LTC Marc Hoffmeister was recently named by National Geographic as one of their “Adventurers of the Year” for his successful climb of Mount McKinley (also known as Denali) as part of Operation Denali. Hoffmeister was the team leader of a group of wounded warriors who set out to climb the 20,320 ft. summit in order to symbolize their strength and perseverance over adversity.

In April 2007, LTC Hoffmeister was severely injured while serving in Iraq when an IED outside of Al Hillah blew up his Humvee. Hoffmeister was evacuated to Germany and then back to the U.S. where he had eight surgeries on his arm and endured months of painful rehabilitation.

Recently, I had the pleasure of chatting with LTC Hoffmeister about his experiences as an outdoor adventurer. Click here to read the rest of the article from National Geographic and click here to vote for AW2 Soldier LTC Hoffmeister in the National Geographic Reader’s Choice Awards for “Adventurer of the Year.”

Below is the first part of my interview with LTC Hoffmeister, so be sure to check back tomorrow for Part II.

1) How does it feel to be named to National Geographic’s “Adventurer of the Year” list?

It’s both an unexpected and awesome feeling to be recognized on a national scale and among such an impressive group of recipients, but more than anything it feels a bit awkward to be singled out for something that was a team accomplishment. The team members of Operation Denali came together to do a singularly remarkable thing and it took everyone’s effort and courage to achieve it. I am proud of the honor but want everyone to recognize that every member of our team is an Adventurer of the Year — their willingness to embrace the challenge of our mission was inspirational.

2) What motivated you to get back into outdoor adventures?

My wife Gayle pushed me early on in my recovery to get back to what we love to do in the outdoors. Whether she knew it or not (and I believe she did), the act of getting back into the mountains was spiritually cleansing and rehabilitative. It gave me the motivation to regain my independence.

3) What were some of the challenges that your team in Operation Denali faced during the climb?

We faced the same challenges of any high altitude expedition: heavy loads, long movements, frigid cold, hypoxia due to altitude, and we faced all of those on top of managing limitations from our wounds.

Several of us have compromised nervous systems from our injuries which made us more susceptible to cold injuries and required diligence to avoid further injury. Managing technical tasks and gear distribution within the team in order to be as efficient as possible despite our injuries was important to try and maintain the health of each team member throughout the expedition.

4) Did you apply your military training and leadership skills to motivate your fellow team members during the climb?

I believe we all did at various times. During any physically strenuous endurance event or expedition, everyone has highs and lows. As a team, we bonded tightly enough to recognize who was having a good day and who was not. Those doing well would quietly pick up the slack for the others by carrying an extra piece of gear, digging in the cache of food/equipment, laying out or recovering ropes or helping to set the other rope team’s tent. We did this without any discussion, it was habit born of our shared experiences in the military and in combat.

5) Describe your thoughts when you reached the summit. What was your reaction to achieving a life-goal that you set for yourself long before your injury?

Probably not the answer you expect, but the summit was almost anticlimactic, partly because the weather had enveloped us in a swirl of snow but more so because the full team did not stand on top with us. It lent truth to the old adage that it was more about the journey than the summit. To better answer your question, let me quote my summit day journal from the climb:

“It’s been a long year’s journey to this point, but we did it. Only half the team managed to summit, but it took the entire team’s effort to make that happen. It truly saddens me that the full team didn’t top out, especially Gayle, my inspiration for the climb. At the same time, I’m struck by the parallel of our team’s efforts with that of our wounded warriors and fallen heroes. They may not have seen the fight thru to the end, or finished their combat deployment, but it was their sacrifices that enabled their unit’s success and our nation to win its wars and bring everyone else back home. I also think of the 53 Fallen Paratroopers and 356 wounded Spartans of my Brigade’s deployment to Iraq and I whisper a prayer for them and those already back out in the fight. This climb was for them in many ways and I hope they will somehow know that two Arctic Wounded Warriors of the 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division Spartans stood atop Denali in recognition of their sacrifice, bringing closure to a mission now complete.”

Remember to check back tomorrow for Part II of our interview with AW2 Soldier  LTC Hoffmeister.

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  • Renita Wickes

    Many times we lose sight of the sacrifices our servicemembers make to not only protect our freedoms but also give freedoms for those who didn’t have it before. Our wounded warriors and their families deserve the support of all of us. I am proud to see the improving care of our wounded heroes as they continue the global war on terroism. The comparison of part of the team not making it to the top and those who did not finish their deployment because they gave the ultimate sacrifice is beautifully said. Thank you and thank all those who served and those who are still serving.

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