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Eight U.S. Airmen and two family members embraced atop Africa’s highest peak as the sun broke the horizon on Sunday, July 16th, 2007. The second mountain in their USAF 7 Summits Challenge, Mt. Kilimanjaro proved to be an excellent climbing and cultural experience for this group of Air Force members.
As with many military events, many of the members of this climb had not met each other until arriving in Tanzania. Thanks to their shared experiences and training as Airmen, the group of ten was soon a well-tuned mountain climbing team that regarded each other more as family than as just a team. After organizing gear and meeting their African support crew, the ascent of the beautiful Mt. Kilimanjaro began. Conditions during the seven-day climb were excellent. Temperatures were around 60-70F during the day and between 20-30F at night. Team leader Capt Rob Marshall used a pulse-oximeter and daily check-ups to monitor for any signs of Acute Mountain Sickness. Thanks to excellent physical training, good hygiene, and a stout medical kit provided by the team’s Air Force flight surgeon, all climbers avoided AMS and remained healthy throughout this African adventure.
Shortly after midnight, on the morning of the 16th, the team began their long push to the summit. With a bright moon and stars surrounding them, there was little need for headlamps. Temperatures were cold on this clear, breezy night, causing the team to use their warmest gear. But laughter and high sprits carried them step-by-step up the sandy, rocky slope. After reaching the summit rim, the team found themselves surrounded by the beautiful glaciers Mt. Kilimanjaro is famous for. Motivated by the beauty of the dawn-lit glaciers, the climbers pressed on to the summit of Africa. Once on the top, there were cheers of excitement, hugs of support and of course pushups to honor fallen Airmen and highlight the importance of physical fitness.
A plaque to the crew of Wrath 11, a MC-130H from the 7 Special Operations Squadron that crashed in Albania the previous year, was placed on the summit in their honor. Several of the team members lost friends and colleagues during the incident and dedicated this climb to their fallen friends.
After the long, dusty descent to their high camp, the team ate and napped- they had been hiking above 14,000ft for the last 9 hours. They then packed up and descended to the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro, where they took their first showers in a week. There was much celebration that night as team members gathered with their African friends for a feast. The next three days, they explored Tanzania and deliviered supplies to a Massai school in a remote part of the nation. Spending time with the Massai was a highlight for many of the climbers and an excellent cultural experience.
For a mountain that little more than half of its climbers ever summit, the team was proud that all ten of it’s climbers reached the top. Their experience in Africa was a special one that none will soon forget. The confidence gained from reaching the summit will be well used in their Air Force careers and throughout their lives.