My friend Padre Kevin, who’s out in CFB Shiloh with the infantry, God bless him, commented recently on how this blog focuses on wounded warriors. It’s true that I’m fascinated by stories of how soldiers can recover from their injuries in battle and rise to new challenges. In doing so they become examples of how resiliency of spirit, the encouragement of loved ones and friends, and the best qualities of the military ethos can help help them, and us, soldier on in adversity.

The other day the US Defence Department news service profiled Lt. Col. Mark Hoffmeister, a US Army Ranger who, incidentally, shares the name of one of Canada’s great WW2 Generals. Mark Hoffmeister was wounded by a roadside bomb in Iraq in 2007.

“After months of surgeries and rehabilitation, he found himself falling into a depression, he said.

“Being wounded was a significant experience,” Hoffmeister said. “It’s a major setback, and it’s pretty easy to succumb to your wounds and say, ‘I can’t do this anymore.’”

Hoffmeister found himself in an unfamiliar situation: stuck at home with nothing to train for and nothing to do. He battled with post-traumatic stress and severe pain, and wasn’t sure if he’d ever be competitive again.”

With the encouragment of his wife Gayle, a former Army nurse and fellow athlete, Mark started going back to the gym and in June of 2009 he and a team of five others, including three other wounded warriors, made an ascent of Mount McKinley, also called Denali. He admitted that this expedition took some nerve.

“After months of surgeries and recovery time to save his arm, he said, possibly losing his arm to frostbite on a mountain wasn’t at the top of the list of things he wanted to do.

“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a sense of doubt and fear about my own ability,” he said. “After having gone through a load of surgeries and rehab, doing this was a big risk. I was scared and intimidated, and didn’t know what I could do.”

Army Lt. Col. Marc Hoffmeister, top left; Army Spc. Dave Shebib, top right; retired Marine Capt. Jon Kuniholm, bottom left; and retired Army Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Nyman, bottom right, all wounded warriors were part of an expedition to climb Alaska’s Mount McKinley, also known as Denali, the highest point in North America, in June 2009. Courtesy photo

A blog of their 2009 climb can be found here.
Hoffmeister is due to deploy again to Iraq this fall, and when he returns, he and his wife plan to be part of a team of veterans who will climb 22,000 feet up Cerro Aconcaqua in Argentina, the highest point in the Americas.

Hoffmeister said he hopes his team’s story inspires others. Their journey to 20,000 feet shows that any hardship or disability can be overcome through teamwork and determination, he said.

“We all deal with shared hardships, whether it’s long deployments or the fear of combat, and no one gets through it on their own,” he said. “They get through it by the strength of a team, knowing when people are weak and when they’re strong, and stepping up when you’re strong and accepting help when you’re weak. If you understand that psychology, you understand success.”