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Wednesday, 28 September 2016 14:24

Florida- Chief Leads Team in Resilience-Building Mountain Climb Featured

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Fla., — The four pillars of comprehensive
airman fitness are mental,
physical, social and spiritual.
How airmen strengthen each pillar
is their own decision, but one senior
noncommissioned officer thinks
a way to reinforce all of these concepts
is found at the top of each
American state’s highest point.
Most recently, Air Force
Chief Master Sgt. Dean Werner,
the emergency management program
manager for the Air Force
Civil Engineer Center, led a hike
Aug. 4-6, adding to his list of
mountains climbed.
“I led a group of 10 airmen
to the summit of Granite Peak,
Montana, which is considered the
most difficult of the 50 state highpoints
to conquer, except for
Mount Denali, Alaska,” Werner
The climb consisted of
tackling 28 miles in three days
while gaining more than 7,000 feet
of elevation.
“The purpose of the challenge
is to boost the mental, physical,
social and spiritual health of
our service members through
climbs of each American state’s
highest geographical point,”
Werner said. “Hikes and climbs
offer a chance to interact with
other airmen, expand one’s comfort
zone, and tackle a peak that often
looks too big to climb- just like big
life problems we each face from
time to time.”
Although the Forest Service
estimates only a 10 to 20 percent
success rate for this summit, six of
the 10 airmen in Werner’s team
made it to the top.
Assessing Risks
“Risk management was
definitely a large part of our success,
as there are many very dangerous
areas during the climb,” the
chief said. “We assessed the risks
as a team, and as four of our team
members realized their experience
level did not match the mountain
requirements, they made sound decisions
to … safely head back
down the mountain.
“Part of this challenge is to
push yourself past your comfort
level,” he continued, “and even
those who made the decision to
turn around definitely pushed
themselves past that level and still
gained valuable experience to push
a little further next time.”
The team had some close
calls with falling rocks and picking
the correct route on the final push
to the summit, but they all returned
safely to the trailhead with no injuries,
Werner said.
Trekking up mountains can
be tough, but the chief said he is
drawn to the sport specifically because
of the physical challenge it
“Between the elevation
gained, the limitedamount of oxygen and the risks involved,
mountains provide me with
what I use to cope with the other
challenges in my life,” said he explained.
“When you challenge
yourself with a difficulty you
enjoy, sometimes that makes other
difficulties less challenging. From
2011 to 2014, I went outside the
wire many times in Afghanistan
and have since struggled with how
that affected me. When I conquer
the challenge of a tough summit,
my faith tells me I was brought
there for a reason: to enjoy that
summit that was given to me in
that moment.”
When at the summit of a
mountain, Werner said he feels
there are more important things in
life than dwelling on difficulties.
Exhilaration and Appreciation
Werner said reaching the
summit of a big mountain gives
him a lot of satisfaction when he
looks down and sees what he went
through to get to the mountaintop.
Climbing a mountain like that is a
brutal workout, he added, but when
he reaches the top, he does not feel
fatigue or pain -- just exhilaration
and appreciation.
This climb was not the first
time Werner has taken on a mountain.
He also has climbed Tanzania’s
Mount Kilimanjaro and
Aconcagua in Argentina.
“My first big mountain was
Mount Kilimanjaro, and I climbed
it while on leave from
Afghanistan,” Werner said. “Having
never climbed a mountain over
15,000 feet before, I didn’t know
how tough it would be, so I dedicated
lots of time to conditioning.
“My remote camp in
Afghanistan didn’t have any roads
or trails to run on, since our camp
was only 200 meters by 200 meters,”
he continued. “I did all of my
training on a treadmill, mostly running,
doing interval training, and
once each week setting it a max incline
of 15 percent and walking
with a backpack. I also did a lot of
weightlifting and pushups to prepare,
as I set a goal of doing 1,000
pushups during the five-day
Werner said he looks forward
to his next climb and that he
encourages airmen to try this activity
if they are looking for a challenge.
“Mountains, and especially
team climbs with fellow airmen,
give team members a great chance
for camaraderie and confidencebuilding,”
Werner said. “I would
like to see airmen take advantage
of this activity, as the healing powers
of the outdoors, and especially
mountains, are very beneficial.
After a climb, airmen will understand
that their climb gave them
something that other avenues of assistance
for life difficulties could
not have. Even if an airman without
those difficulties climbed with
this program, they will realize that
their adventure gave them a level
of personal growth and confidence
few other means could.”

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