By Richard Rhinehart
Fort Carson, Colorado, October 15, 2015 – Colorado Army veteran and World T.E.A.M. Sports’ Sea to Shining Sea finisher Chad Jukes is one of four combat-wounded veterans and active-duty soldiers who will travel to the Himalayan Mountains in April 2016 to climb Mount Everest.
As participants in U.S. Expeditions & Explorations’ Army Everest Expedition, SSG Jukes and his three colleagues will work together to successfully reach the summit of the world’s highest mountain and return safely to the United States. In doing so, they will be the first Army team, active or veteran, to climb the peak.
Jukes, a 31-year-old Iraq combat veteran who lost a leg to injuries he received when his truck hit an anti-tank mine in December 2006, has been an active sport climber since age 12. Following surgery to amputate his leg below the knee, Jukes was back climbing within two months. In the summer of 2010, he rode across North America with World T.E.A.M. Sports’ Sea to Shining Sea bicycle and hand cycle ride from San Francisco to Virginia Beach.
Other expedition team members include CPT Matthew Hickey, the Fort Carson, Colorado-based team leader and co-founder of the non-profit U.S. Expeditions & Explorations (USX); LT Harold L Earls IV of West Point, New York, the organization’s President; and LT Elyse Ping Medvigy of Fort Carson, Colorado. All are experienced mountaineers and climbers who successfully reached the summit of Washington’s 14,410-foot Mount Rainier in September as a warm-up climb. Command Sergeant Major Todd Burnett is serving as the team’s military-veteran liaison.
For Jukes, the 2016 expedition will be his second visit to the Himalayans, his first being in October 2010 as a member of World T.E.A.M. Sports’ Military Initiative Expedition to Nepal. The expedition’s team of disabled and able-bodied veterans successfully climbed 20,075-foot Lobuche East, an inspiring effort that was documented in the 2012 film “High Ground.” Jukes participation in the Everest climb is sponsored by non-profit No Barriers USA.
Although reaching Everest’s 29,029-foot summit is important to the team, Hickey reports the organization sees success from the expedition in two ways. “First is the safety and well-being of those involved with the climb,” he said. “No mountain is worth dying or even being injured for. Success is coming home to our families and friends in one piece, even if that means we don’t make the summit. Second, but of no lesser value, is the attention we bring to mental health awareness.”
“We want to raise awareness and most importantly funds to help our soldiers who are struggling with PTS and suicide,” said Earls. “Our objective is to use the publicity we will receive on Everest to bring awareness to our cause.”
Hickey reports that the non-profit USX sees the expedition as a starting point for exceptional outdoor sporting events including disabled and able-bodied Army athletes. “USX was founded with the principles of conducting challenging, audacious and never been done before expeditions and explorations. No active duty soldier or combat wounded soldier has ever stood atop the world. We wanted that to change.”
“Everest is only the first of our ‘Nexus Expeditions’ which empower soldiers and veterans to accomplish audacious, challenging and groundbreaking expeditions,” explained Earls. “We are also releasing our new ‘Research Initiatives’ in 2016 where we will use small teams of soldiers and veterans to further research and American exploration while enabling veterans to continue serving their country, providing a renewed sense of purpose. We are partnering with universities, scientists, and research organizations to use veterans to fulfill some of the most daunting and important exploration for America.”
With a full schedule of training for the team until the April departure to Nepal, the climbers will remain busy. Following the September climb of Rainier, team members will climb high 14,000-foot peaks in Colorado this October and a participate in a technical training session at the Army’s Mountain Warfare School, Jericho, Vermont in January.
Throughout the training, and during the climb of Everest from the north side, a film crew will document the team’s efforts. Journalist Sebastian Junger, the award-winning director of Restrepo and Korengal, has committed to directing the film. “We have a great media coverage plan for the expedition,” said Hickey. “Of course, we’ll be posting to the usual social media outlets – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.”
To successfully complete the expedition, USX will need to raise a minimum of $100,000 in funds through corporate support and donations. “It’s amazing how much a giant piece of ice and rock can cost to scale, but that’s also a testament to how much attention it garners,” explained Hickey. “We have strong sponsorship and support from personal donations, private companies and large corporations.” Additional support from donors and companies will be helpful, as USX intends to help other non-profit organizations that work with injured soldiers.
The Everest climb is only the beginning for USX. “I have an extreme passion and desire to try and help my fellow soldiers and inspire people that you really can accomplish anything,” said Earls. “I am only 23 years old, but I think that I can still make a positive difference that not only affects my life, but most importantly, others as well.”
With current statistics indicating that more than 22 veterans are ending their lives every day owing to PTS and other war-related issues, Hickey is hopeful the positive story of their climb will make a difference. “We want to inspire veterans to seek out help and inspire others to provide assistance.”
USX is a nonprofit organization founded by active-duty service members and veterans. The organization empowers and inspires veterans to overcome service-related mental health issues. USX does this through small outdoor expedition teams fostering camaraderie and a renewed sense of purpose. In doing so, USX will spread the spirit of the American soldier and raise awareness for veterans’ mental health nationwide.
Listen to Bob Calvert with Talking With Heroes and Matthew Hickey discuss the 2016 Everest expedition.
Donate to USX to support the organization and the upcoming expedition to Everest.