“The guides [also taught] us how to successfully not kill yourself, basically,” laughed Munos, who still serves on active duty. Munos has worn leg braces ever since a drunk driver in Germany crushed both his legs.
“The braces are like a plate that holds my foot in place. I can’t articulate my ankle up and down, and because of that, when I go up the mountain, I won’t be able to flex [my foot]. I’ll basically be planting my toe [with the] crampon attached to the boot to support my weight [and virtually tip-toeing up Rainier],” Munos explained.
“These guys are great,” former Special Operator Billy Waugh, author of “Hunting The Jackal,” declared as the wounded warriors departed for this week’s extreme challenge.
Their pace was blistering. On July 9, the group geared up in Ashford, Washington. The next day, they hiked to Camp Muir, and on Wednesday they trained on the glacier. On July 12, the two rope teams successfully reached Mount Rainier’s summit. By July 13, the Camp Patriot group of wounded warriors, guides and volunteers had finished their descent and began heading home.
Because the team’s ability to communicate with the outside world was limited to sporadic radio updates, the details of the soldiers’ entire adventure will not be known until long after they have had a chance to unwind. Based on my experiences during a previous Camp Patriot climb, the entire team will have amazing stories to tell.
Because I had covered Special Operations forces on combat missions in Afghanistan and Iraq, Camp Patriot founder Micah Clarke called me in 2008 to join the organization’s climb that year. I had the opportunity to cover a medically retired Navy SEAL from my hometown, a Special Operations Reconnaissance Marine and an amputee Soldier as they journeyed to the top of Mount Rainier.
Clarke knew I had trekked and back-country packed the Himalayas almost to Mount Everest’s base camp, the Alps, the Andes, the Atlas Mountains, around Mount Cook, New Zealand and Patagonia. He figured I wouldn’t hold back the teams.
I’d been back from battlefield Iraq a few months, recovering from an injury during a combat mission with 10th Special Forces Group and Air Force Special Operations forces in dangerous Diyala Province. While mending, I reported on Special Operations forces on the home front, focusing on how their community or service branch supported them and their families — or not — after they had been wounded in battle or injured during their intense training.
Mount Rainier would be the ultimate test for the wounded veterans, but it would also be a comeback mission of sorts for this war reporter.
Retired Navy SEAL Special Operator 2nd Class Ryan Job and I would be teammates on the same rope. We both grew up in the shadows of Mount Rainier, and had both attended the University of Washington.
While assigned to SEAL Team 3, Ryan suffered severe head injuries and lost his sight on a rooftop in Ramadi after an enemy sniper shot him in the face during an intense firefight.
The other intrepid wounded warriors on this challenge included retired Special Operations Reconnaissance Marine Sgt. Jose “Joey” Martinez III, who was 98 percent blind from an improvised explosive blast while on patrol with his sniper team in Al Anbar Province; and retired Army Reserve Staff Sgt. Chad Jukes, whose leg was amputated after his armored truck hit an anti-tank mine during an ambush in Northern Iraq.