This interview with Rob Marshall is one of an ongoing series I do each season with Everest climbers. Not the famous, sponsored ones who get plenty of publicity but the regular people, who often have full time jobs, full time families and climb for the love of the climb. I welcome suggestions for anyone climbing in 2013 I should interview. Now here’s Rob:
I first met Major Rob Marshall at the airport in Puenta Arenas on my climb of Antarctica’s highest mountain, Mt. Vinson. Major Marshal and Capitan Graydon Muller told me they wanted to do push-ups on the summit.
Over the next few weeks, I got to know, respect and admire these men. You see they were not just out climbing mountains, they were setting records, making a difference and touching the lives of military personal around the world.
After a series of life changing events, Rob set a goal to climb the 7 Summits with his Air Force buddies to honor the fallen. And they are, raising $60,000 for military charities in the process thus far.
With a successful summit of Everest, the group would make history as the first military team to climb each continent’s highest mountain and the first United States military team to summit Everest.
The Everest team includes:
- Maj. Rob Marshall, 34, a V-22 Osprey pilot, from Mercer Island, Wash., stationed in Amarillo, Texas
- 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.
- 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.
- Captain Kyle Martin, 29, an F-16 instructor pilot and mission commander from Manhattan, Kan., currently flying T-38s at Langley Air Force Base, Va.
Oh, and about those push-ups in Antarctica:
Please meet Major Marshall:
Q: The Air Force 7 Summits Challenge has become personal for you. Why?
When I started the project in 2005, it was simply an audacious project to highlight some of the positive aspects of the Air Force that I was proud of: teamwork, physical fitness, camaraderie, and determination. However, within two months of officially creating the Air Force 7 Summits Challenge, a tragic plane crash occurred while I was on a military training mission in Albania. Several of my friends died and it made me realize how short and fragile life can be. Then, a few weeks later, two of my Air Force Academy classmates were killed in a separate crash. I decided to dedicate our first climb in their honor and for all the men and women that had died serving in the Air Force since 9/11. I also wanted to find a way to support the surviving family members, so we started raising money for their children’s college education with every 1,000ft we climbed. That’s when the challenge became personal.
Q: Rob, the project is not a military operation, how are the climbers funding each climb?
With really good savings plans! We are an unofficial team and not sponsored by the Air Force or any other government agency, so all of our climbs to date have been paid in full by the individual climbers. However, we are hoping to offset some of the Everest costs through donations and sponsorship.
Q: Chad Jukes, 28 of Ridgeway Colorado has recently joined your team. How did you talk him into joining the team given he lost his lower leg in Iraq?
It’s with much disappointment that I have to say Chad Jukes won’t be joining us for the climb of Mt. Everest in 2013. Chad was really looking forward to being the first US Service Member amputee to attempt Everest, but we couldn’t secure the funding for his climb. Chad was in an Army convoy when an IED (improvised explosive device) detonated from a pothole and destroyed his vehicle, resulting in the loss of his right leg.
Q: You are climbing for more than a summit. Please tell us a bit about the Special Operations Warrior Foundation.
I first heard of the Special Operations Warrior Foundation was after the 2005 MC-130H that I mentioned earlier. The word went out though our Special Operations Squadrons that the charity would support the spouses and children of the men who died during the crash. Speifically, they ensure the children of fallen Special Operators can attend the college of their choice free of cost. We’re not talking about a small loan or just covering tuition. The SOWF, which was started after the tragic end to the failed 1980 Iran hostage rescue mission, takes the weight of worry off the widow’s shoulders by paying the child’s college room, board, tuition, a car, insurance, flights home for holidays, and even some spending money. It’s a fantastic charity that supports all members of the US Special Operations community, including Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines.
I’m also excited to say we’re helping other military charities as well. We recently invited a non-profit group called “That Others May Live“, which supports the Air Force Combat Rescue community, to send some of their ‘Wounded Angels’ (injured Combat Rescue members) up to Everest Base Camp with us. My hope is that the epic journey into the Himalaya will help these Airmen in their recovery from both physical and emotional trauma. Mountains have a powerful way of healing and I hope we can develop an ongoing program to support military member’s recovery through mountain trips.
Q: How can we help?
There are two very easy ways to help us in our goal to take the Air Force to the Top of the World. First off, spread the word about this exciting challenge! The more American’s that hear about this positive and patriotic climb, the better. We are tired of all the negative news on the TV and in the press!! Secondly, Visit our site, and make a donation through Amazon or PayPal. If you happen to know a business that would to support us and send their logo to the Top of the World with us, we’d love to talk to them!
Q: Rob, you are called back to duty while on Denali. Any chance of that happening again on Everest?
That is always a possibility Alan. As an active duty military member, I’m on-call 24hrs a day, 7 days a week. Luckily I’ve been put in an assignment that is more predictable than my previous Special Operations job, so I’m hoping to take advantage of this temporary calm in my career and finish up the 7 Summits Challenge while I have the chance!
Q: Everest is in a different league than the other 7 Summits. Any concerns?
Everest certainly is different than the other peaks in the 7 Summits. Each has its own unique set of challenges. Our team is keenly aware of the hazards specific to Everest, especially the unpredictable nature of the other climbers and the extreme environment (ice fall, oxygen shortages, powerful storms). We’re actually working with the Air Force Safety Center to manage our risks to the greatest extent possible. Additionally, we’ll be blogging about our risk management decisions throughout the climb so we can help teach other Airmen how to go about using risk management in their off-duty sports and adventures.
Q: Once you complete the 7 Summits, any chance of doing Carstensz Pyramid to complete the so called Messner List?
I’m not sure about that Alan! It’s been a lot of time and money to fit in the 7 Summits in-between Iraq and Afghanistan deployments and other military missions, so getting to Carstensz isn’t high on my to-do list. As a mountaineer and adventurer, I’m sure I’ll find time to fit it in. I’m just 34 years old, so there is plenty of time to head over there in the future after I focus on a few other things, such as work and starting a family.
Q: Any other thoughts for us followers this year?
I’m really excited to be so close to getting the Air Force and American flags on top of the 7 Summits. It was a truly lofty dream we put into motion back in 2005 and I smile to think how much we’ve come through to reach this point. America faces a lot of difficulties these days: debt, war, declining health, and political bickering. Amongst all these problems, here is an exciting and uplifting story that we hope will encourage Americans to get outside, get healthy, and use their hobbies to make the nation a slightly better place. I’d really like to see us find a way in 2013 to decrease the number of US Service Member suicides through outdoor adventure programs that increase heart rates and sweat and decrease depression and the stigma of discussing our own mental health issues.
Also- I’m aiming to set a world record for the most pushups above 29,000ft… so stay tuned for that. We do pushups on the summit of each peak we climb in honor of our fallen friends and colleagues, so I figured it would be really fun to see what we can do on Everest!
Thanks Rob. Best of luck to your team this year on Everest. We will all be pulling for you. They are climbing the south side with logistics provided by Internal Mountain Guides (IMG). You can follow Rob and his team on their website.
Memories are Everything