Putting their minds and bodies to the ultimate test, 10 military veterans of all ranks, deployments and geographical locations attended a brutal six-month training camp to climb up Mount Kilimanjaro on June 9 in Tanzania, Africa.
All of the training eventually paid off as the group achieved a 100 percent success rate in climbing up one of the tallest mountains in the world.
Dedicated to helping veterans gain back their civilian lifestyles through outdoor activities, Warriors Keep, a nonprofit organization began the expedition to provide mental and physical therapy for such veterans. Freedom Peak 1, the name of the expedition, was one of the largest U.S. veteran treks to date.
The Freedom Peak 1 journey included 10 veterans from Texas, New York, California and Southern Carolina. The organization originally chose 13 veterans to climb the mountain, but because of injuries and other circumstances, only 10 were able to make the trip.
Marine veteran Sgt. John Hardin, the Warrior’s Keep co-founder and executive director, said the process of choosing people to climb up Kilimanjaro with was very selective. Starting in September, 2018, there were three phases of selection which included an interview section. People from all different ranks, ages, times served were chosen to participate in the training process for the climb.
During training, there were five phases throughout the weekends and weekdays to help prepare. Hardin described how since not everyone was able to come to training all the time because of work and family, social media proved to be a large connector among the veterans where they could communicate their personal preparations for the trek.
“With everyone being so dispersed from all sides of the country, it’s hard to engage in physical communication all the time, so we put it on the trainees to push themselves for the challenge every day,” Hardin said.
After the training was over, the Warriors Keep flew the veterans to Tanzania for what could be one of the most challenging missions of their lives.
“I knew it would be difficult to climb up the mountain,” Hardin said, “but when I actually started climbing, I found it to be the hardest thing I had ever done in my entire life.”
Mount Kilimanjaro is the tallest mountain in Africa standing at 19,340 feet. Many of the team members’ bodies and minds were put to the ultimate test on the trip, Hardin noted.
After the trek, Hardin mentioned the climb urged all the veterans to push themselves to their highest mental and physical potential. In the end, the team achieved literally what no other group that large has done before.
“One of the best parts about this was that none of us knew each other going into it. But I have made some good friends throughout this brutal, yet successful journey,” Hardin said.