LTC Marc Hoffmeister: Photo Courtesy of the Veterans Coalition
Imagine climbing Mount McKinley, the highest peak in North America. Now imagine doing it while recovering from wounds sustained from a roadside bomb in Iraq.
This is exactly what Army Lt. Col. Marc Hoffmeister did and by overcoming his injuries and encouraging others to do the same, he was awarded National Geographic’s Reader’s Choice Adventurer of the Year Award.
Hoffmeister organized “Operation Denali” and trained with a mountaineering team, which was comprised of three other Soldiers who were injured in Iraq: Army Spc. David Shebib, Marine Capt. Jon Kuniholm and retired Army Sgt. 1stClass Matthew Nyman.
Left to Right: David Shebib, Bob Haines and Marc Hoffmeister stop to take a picture after reaching the summit of Mt. McKinley (also known as Denali). Photo Courtesy of the Veterans Coalition
Hoffmeister was injured during his second deployment to Iraq in 2007. The Humvee he was riding in was hit by an improvised explosive device and Hoffmeister lost significant use of his left arm. After receiving medical care at Madigan Army Medical Center at Fort Lewis, Wash., Hoffmeister returned home to Fort Richardson, Alaska. Beginning a long, painful recovery process, Hoffmeister said he relied on tough love from his wife.
Hoffmeister said a spouse’s role in recovery is essential and provides a “degree of intimacy and care.” Hoffmeister said a spouse can often push a wounded Soldier beyond what he or she thinks is possible and he credits his wife with motivating him to continue recovery.
The idea of Operation Denali started when Hoffmeister’s wife, Gayle told him she was going to climb Denali. She “laid down the gauntlet,” forcing him to realize it was time to face his fears and resume his life.
Hoffmeister realized others would feel the same challenges, overcoming injuries and trying to resume “normal” life. He got in touch with Mark Hamm from the Army Wounded Warrior Program at Walter Reed Army Hospital and Hamm assisted him in pushing out invitations.
While sifting through the applicants, Hoffmeister acknowledged he wanted Soldiers who had minimal climbing experience. He felt this way the climb would serve as a true life-changing experience for the participants. The team spent a year on developing skills and conditioning for the climb.
Hoffmeister said the mountaineering team and their goals directly paralleled skills learned in the Army, such as training and battle drills.
“It’s all about practicing how you react to situations,” said Hoffmeister.
Perhaps the biggest similarity was the required team work.
“The greatest value of a team is being able to recognize when one is down and you have to motivate them.”
As one could imagine Hoffmeister acknowledged there were periods of hardships and challenges throughout the journey, but the team kept in mind that those times were fleeting.
“You just have to remember that in 10 minutes, an hour or tomorrow, that pack would be lighter, that blister would be better,” said Hoffmeister. “It’s all about perspective.”
Hoffmeister said his bucket list is long and it includes plans for organizing a future climb in Argentina with Wounded Warriors. As for the National Geographic award, he said it’s important for other Wounded Warriors; as it serves as an example of what can happen with persistence and overcoming obstacles.
“You never know what life will deal you,” said Hoffmeister. “Everything is achieved through small steps.”
Hoffmeister said he encourages Wounded Warriors to confront their challenges, or what he referred to as their “personal summit.”
“When in doubt, go up.”
Written by Jessica Maxwell, Public Affairs Specialist, Online and Social Media
Posted byashmccallunderArmy News, Current Events, Soldier StoriesArmy Wounded Warrior, LTC Marc Hoffmeister, Operation Denali, U.S Army