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Healing at 19,341 feet

Ever wonder what television actors playing Special Forces Operators and the real guys have in common? Nothing. If you join Tusker Trail’s Kilimanjaro Climb for Valor you’ll find out why.

Tusker’s Kilimanjaro Climb for Valor brings together wounded vets, Gold Star family members and eight civilians on a Kilimanjaro climb. It’s a chance for the civilian and military worlds to meet and bond around a common goal. For civilians it’s a rare chance to bond with the vets with shared courage, empowerment and a common goal. These highly focused Special Forces soldiers pursue Uhuru Peak with the same unbridled zeal and meticulous planning that they apply to rescuing a fallen comrade or taking fire from the enemy.

After surviving the high altitude war zone of Afghanistan, Mount Kilimanjaro’s peaceful terrain offers sanctuary for wounded warriors. Kilimanjaro’s stark summit embraces these warriors aiding their spiritual, mental and physical healing.

Navigating Kilimanjaro’s five eco-zones capped by a glaciated snowfield is the essence of being engaged and alive. It offers the vets a chance to go forward and upward in a life they cherish after being so close to death. For the civilians, connecting with these guys on a personal level and achieving the sense of accomplishment of being atop Africa’s highest peak can last a lifetime.

Behind enemy lines

The Kilimanjaro Climb for Valor started in 2015. The next is scheduled for August 20-30, 2017. Civilians recruited by Tusker raise money for the Duskin & Stephens Foundation, a wounded warrior non-profit. Maggie Duskin, a co-founder of the non-profit, lost her husband Mike in combat, and will be part of the 2017 climbing team.

Tusker founder Eddie Frank has forged a strong bond with wounded vets since the military approached him in 2010 to help with high altitude training. “You get to know the individuals who are fighting overseas. Their commitment and devotion to is incredible,” Eddie said.

Meet Green Berets Nick and Nate

Green Berets are not just the toughest men and women in the Army, but the most committed, especially to each other. While serving in Afghanistan, Nick was wounded in three separate incidents. Nate is Nick’s teammate and was riding atop a tank that was destroyed by an IED. After spending months in rehab both are now eager to join the Climb for Valor this summer, according to Green Beret Ryan who served with them in Afghanistan and is on the board of Duskin & Stephens.

This is a chance for the wounded guys to reflect on what they went through without the financial burden of the climb. They get a sense of accomplishment that helps with the healing process,” Ryan said. “Civilians on the climb have a chance to meet our vets, support them on a personal level and have a sense of the reality of a special forces operation. It’s priceless.”

Kraig’s humbling climb

Sitting around a Kilimanjaro campfire listening to the vets stories was an extraordinary experience for Kraig Becker who was on the Kilimanjaro Climb for Valor in 2015. He was both humbled and inspired.

Kilimanjaro was part of their healing process and they both made it back to their units at Ft. Bragg which was their ultimate goal. They were so determined to go back and it was hard to come away without being inspired, “Kraig said. “Where in my life have I ever gone through what they did? It makes my complaining about the traffic back home insignificant.”

When they reached the summit, the vet who had burns over most of his body celebrated. “He did pushups on the summit while the rest of us could hardly breathe. He wasn’t showing off, it’s just what it is to be a Green Beret,” Kraig said.

Mission accomplished

For Eddie climbing with the vets reflects some of his own values. “I connect with their sense of commitment, loyalty and their perfectionism in how they approach life. A handshake means everything to these guys which has always been part of my credo. And their camaraderie is infectious,” Eddie said.

Wounded vets often get little support back home in the US, but Eddie knows that Kilimanjaro has a therapeutic impact, and these guys can also infuse some courage and toughness into Tusker’s clients.

Climb for Valor is that rare chance to bring military and civilian life closer. Through teamwork and commitment atop one of the world’s toughest healing places, that mission can be accomplished.

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