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 second part of my interview with LTC Hoffmeister, please click here to read Part I.
1) How has being an outdoor adventurer prepared you to transition back to the Army?
I believe that every challenge I face in the back country makes me a better Soldier and leader. Whether climbing or skiing local peaks, summiting Denali, or completing a 100 mile Arctic Mountain Bike race across frozen Alaska, I’m forced to constantly control fear, evaluate risk, balance it against my ability and equipment, then mitigate that risk and move forward. It’s not that different than what we do in the military really — except that it’s what I do for fun!
2) Your wife, Gayle, has obviously been a big factor in your recovery. Do you mind sharing how your relationship has made you stronger?
Life is hard in the military these days, no reason to sugar coat it. I was wounded during my third deployment. The stresses on families of repeated deployments are hard enough and the added stress of being wounded and the subsequent recovery process make for some long days. My wife has sacrificed an incredible amount of herself to create the conditions for me to recover as much as possible. From sacrificing all of her leave time to be at my hospital bedside, to caring for me during home recovery and shouldering the full burden of maintaining the home and family while I struggled to get my feet back under me, she did it all.
She is an amazingly strong woman and her efforts go largely unrecognized. She is the unsung hero that has enabled me to achieve my dreams and I am forever indebted to her. I strive each day to try and give back even a portion of what she has given me even though she doesn’t expect or want me to.
3) What does your AW2 Advocate think of you climbing mountains and engaging in other outdoor events? How has your AW2 Advocate supported your adventures?
The AW2 program, specifically Michael Hamm, enabled me to build the team by getting the word out in the beginning. AW2 is an important communal forum where we can bond, share experiences, and build opportunities. Operation Denali is an example of that.
4) I’ve heard that when you aren’t climbing mountains that you work for a foundation that provides service dogs to injured Soldiers and Veterans. Can you describe what your foundation does and what it means to you to support other wounded warriors?
It’s not a foundation in itself, but a program we’ve set up with the local chapter of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, the State of Alaska Department of Corrections, and the Hiland Mountain Correctional Center. The inmates at the correctional center participate in a rehabilitative program in which they train service dogs for the disabled. We work with the program to match wounded warriors in need of a service dog and facilitate the dog’s training for the specific needs of the individual. The program is a great example of Veterans helping Veterans. I think it’s important that we all recognize the generosity of the many people and programs out there to assist us in our recovery.
When we are able, it is important to contribute to the fight and find ways to help our fellow wounded, even if it’s as simple as helping a nonprofit group recruit Soldiers for a local fishing trip or a dinner meal. All AW2 Soldiers and Veterans should all strive to inspire those in the early phases of recovery that there is light at the end of the tunnel, that life is worth living and that there is always a way to overcome the obstacles which confront you.
5) Anything else you would like to add?
As an avid outdoorsman, I live by a simple maxim, “When in doubt, go up!”
It’s a pretty good analogy for life if you think about it. Going up is never easy, but once you get to the top, the view is exceptional, you can clearly see the route back home, and way down can be a hell of a lot of fun if you pick the right path.
And speaking of going up and getting other AW2 Soldiers and Veterans involved – while on Denali, we met several instructors from the Army Mountain Warfare School in Jericho, VT. One of their instructors, Bert Severin, is also Director of Sunrise Adventures, www.sunriseadventuresports.com, and is hosting the annual ice climbing festival at Smuggler’s Notch in Jeffersonville, VT, from January 29-31, 2010. This is a huge, civilian event, details are on the website, and Bert would like to extend the invitation to any interested Wounded Warriors to participate. The clinic is free to wounded warriors and Sunrise Adventure Sports will provide the climbing equipment and training to get you up the ice. I will post all the details in an upcoming blog, but if the thought of putting axe to ice gets your heart pumping and you’re ready to go now, call Bert at (802)730-2978 and get on the list. You’ll have to work transportation, food and lodging, but Bert and his crew are eager to help out and get you on the mountain. So get out there and experience the freedom of the hills!
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