Sky Soldier is rock climbing ace in training with Italian mountaineers
March 28, 2013
VICENZA, Italy - A Sky Soldier with an English accent is king of the mountain when it comes to rock climbing with the Italian Alpini masters of the high places.
Pfc. Max Gibbons, 2nd Regiment, 503rd Infantry, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, was top of his class when training in the Alps with Italian forces last month and may go on to be the first American Soldier in anyone's memory to become a certified instructor this coming autumn.
"Pfc. Gibbons was one of my Soldiers when I was the Able Company first sergeant about a year ago," said Master Sgt. Melvyn Lopez. When Lopez got word that some of his Soldiers would be able to attend the Italian 4th Mountaineering Basic Course, Gibbons was quick to indicate his interest, he said.
"We sent five Soldiers to the six-week training event in the Swiss Alps region of the Val d'Aosta area of Italy. The students are assessed in a point system, 20 points being the highest score possible. Anyone scoring more than 14 points is able to return for the advanced, instructor's course, which will be offered this August and September," said Lopez.
"Four of our five Soldiers made it, with Gibbons scoring 18.5. That was top of the class, even ahead of his Italian counterparts," he said.
According to Italian course leaders, it has been about 10 years since an American Soldier has participated in the school, said Lopez.
Gibbons was self-deprecatingly modest about his achievement, but clearly mindful of the significance of such an achievement carries in the world of his Italian hosts and peers.
"The school for Italians, to be an Alpini . . . you've got to have a solid foundation in climbing because that's their life," he said.
Gibbons' path to the Alps was anything but direct. The Sky Soldier hails originally from Kidderminster, West Midlands, England, where he grew up the third of four siblings. It was a visit to his elder brother that set Gibbons on the path to a career in the Army and his adventures climbing outcroppings.
His elder brother was working in California as a computer programmer at the time and Gibbons came to visit. He liked what he saw and found a way to stay on.
"I went to college in the States, studying criminal justice and law enforcement," said Gibbons. He wound was attending college at Grossmont College in San Diego, when he met his wife to be: they were on the men's and women's basketball teams, respectively, he said.
Gibbons was still a few credits shy of his degree when he joined the Army to better support his family. He came in on delayed entry in March 2011.
Gibbons said he had no background in rock climbing until he was assigned to the 173rd ABCT about a year and a half ago. He and his wife took it up as a hobby they could share after being assigned to duty in Vicenza, he said.
What is the attraction to the endeavor at which he is so obviously talented?
"I have a passion for it. There's the physical challenge, and the mental challenge. It requires total focus. It's all about problem solving and the fact that I like to do dangerous things," said Gibbons.