First the mountain, then their lives
Past participants in Warriors to Summits mountain-climbing expeditions, which support veterans with disabilities, discuss the program’s lasting impact on their civilian lives.
Kyle Miller is determined to live a life filled with purpose, despite his struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder. It was on his descent from Wyoming’s Gannet Peak that he found the clarity he needed to move forward.
“Coming down from Gannet Peak, I knew that my kids had to be at the forefront of everything I do,” says Kyle, a U.S. Army veteran who served in Iraq and now lives in Billings, Montana. “I’ve made a lot of changes in my life to be a better father and to be more present.”
Kyle climbed Gannet Peak in 2015 with a team of military veterans with disabilities as part of Warriors to Summits, a No Barriers Warriors program that uses mountains as a metaphor for mental, physical, and emotional barriers.
“The program helped me work through some of the things that were holding me back,” Kyle says, “and my relationship with my kids is stronger as a result. My kids are able to worry about me less. They can focus on having fun and being kids — and that’s a great thing.”
2016 Warriors to Summits expeditions
A year after the climb, Kyle, a Wells Fargo team member, has remained involved in the Warriors to Summits program. On behalf of Wells Fargo, a sponsor of the program, Kyle served on the selection committee for 2016 Warriors to Summits teams and got to know many of the 2016 participants.
Wells Fargo has sponsored Warriors to Summits since 2014, when a team of 13 veterans with disabilities took on Mount Whitney, the highest summit in the contiguous United States. Wells Fargo’s support is part of the company’s overall commitment to empower and support veterans in their transition to civilian life.
Wells Fargo is sponsoring three Warriors to Summits expeditions in 2016 for veterans with disabilities such as limb loss, traumatic brain injury, and PTSD. Each expedition team will include 13 veterans with disabilities.
- Expedition I: Gila Wilderness in New Mexico, June 11–17
- Expedition II: Presidential Range in New Hampshire, July 9–15
- Expedition III: San Juan Mountain Range in Colorado, October 1–10
Expedition III will be comprised of 13 Warriors to Summits alumni from the 2014 Mission Mt. Whitney team, 2015 Team Gannett Peak, the 2016 Gila Wilderness Team, and the 2016 Presidential Range Team.
‘The ultimate leadership experience’
Several years before his 2014 journey on Mount Whitney, Stuart Cooley and his wife decided to start a family. They couldn’t have anticipated the difficult road ahead. They had four unsuccessful tries with in vitro fertilization before finding hope through an adoption agency. Then, at birth, the baby was given to another family through a different adoption agency.
Stuart, who was injured in a live-fire combat exercise while deployed in Iraq, says being on the Warriors to Summits Mission: Mount Whitney team helped him make sense of what was happening at home.
“It was very hard, but I learned to persevere,” Stuart says. “We all have our mountains in life. Trying to start a family was mine. My summit was to be a father.”
When he returned home to Houston from Mount Whitney, Stuart and his wife decided to try in vitro fertilization one last time and, finally, the couple got good news. They had their first child in January.
“After 12 years of marriage and 16 years of U.S. Navy service, being a father is the ultimate leadership experience,” Stuart says.
‘A safety net’
Before joining the 2015 Warriors to Summits team, U.S. Army veteran and Purple Heart recipient Paul Smith struggled with depression and injuries sustained from an improvised explosive device that detonated during his deployment in Iraq.
One year after his journey to Gannet Peak, Paul says that the program and his teammates helped save his life during some of the darkest days of his depression.
“Programs like Warriors to Summits act as a safety net for people who might otherwise fall through the cracks,” Paul says. “Too many of our soldiers return home and don’t make it.”
Paul recently moved to Colorado and says that his experience with the program has helped him live his life more fully.
He says, “I was isolated and the program helped me connect with others and gain control over my life. I feel empowered to make big decisions and have started thinking more about how I can support those around me. That’s big!”