Injured Veterans Summit Mount Rainier
July 16, 2009
- Three active duty Soldiers attempt to summit 14,410 foot tall Mt. Rainier, despite looming surgeries.
- Two Soldiers from USASOC successfully summit.
- Mt. Rainier is the tallest peak in the Cascade Mountain Range.
- Soldiers assisted by volunteers from 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne).
FORT LEWIS, WASH. - A little more than a year ago, the vehicle Mario Barragan was riding in was struck by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan's Helmand Province. The blast killed one Soldier and severely wounded Barragan and a fellow Soldier.
The moment the bomb detonated during the Battle of Kajaki Sofla on July 13, 2008 set into motion a series of events that changed the sergeant first class' life.
Barragan, a Green Beret with 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne) at Fort Bragg, N.C., suffered blunt trauma to his face and received shrapnel in his right leg. The El Paso, Texas native lost more than 75 percent of his lower right jaw and chin, he has undergone eight surgeries to reconstruct his face. Additionally, Barragan has had three surgeries on his leg, and is scheduled to have more surgery on his face.
Despite these setbacks, Barragan accomplished a feat many do not dare: summit Mount Rainier.
"I never thought I would do this," said Barragan after summiting the 14,410 foot volcano. "I was bed ridden for a couple of months (after the IED). I thought I was never gonna be able to walk again."
I took (this climb) as a challenge to help me with physical therapy. I was in a wheel chair for three months, a cane for four months after that, so I never thought I would do this," added Barragan.
Barragan, along with two other Soldiers injured overseas or in training, attempted the climb. Sergeant 1st Class Jesse Yandell of 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment and Capt. Reinaldo Gonzalez attempted the climb.
Gonzalez, who was paralyzed from the neck down after falling from an obstacle during the U.S. Army's Ranger School, did not summit because he was concerned for the safety of others on the descent from the summit.
Yandell was injured when he was hit by small-arms fire and a rocket propelled grenade while serving in Afghanistan. After evacuation and close examination by doctors, shrapnel was discovered throughout Yandell's upper chest, including the area close to his heart. In order to remain in the Army, Yandell opted for exploratory surgery to remove the shrapnel near his heart. The successful surgery removed a 2.7mm piece of shrapnel from the sensitive area.
The Army Ranger from Leesberg, Fla. said that he "was kinda worried" about the climb before the start because he didn't know what level of cardiovascular abilities he had.
"My surgery was four months to the day (of the summit climb)," said Yandell. "There was some doubt just because you don't know about the unknown."
Yandell added that his confidence grew more each day as he learned from his guides.
Camp Patriot, a non-profit organization founded in Montana in 2006, made the trip possible for the three active-duty Soldiers. The mission of the organization is to help disabled veterans enjoy outdoor activities, such as hiking, fishing and shooting.
Among the volunteers to assist in the climb were country singer and former Soldier Keni Thomas and a handful of Soldiers from 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne). The Soldiers volunteered and assisted by providing logistical support.
Staff Sgt. Edward Grondin, a Soldier in 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne)'s Group Support Battalion, said the climb was a "success" and that he looks forward to volunteering again next year.
"It's always great to help, especially when it's our brothers in arms," said Grondin. "These guys gave a lot to us and this is our chance to give back."