Camp Helps Wounded Vets Climb Past Disabilities

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MOUNT RAINER, Wash. - They put their lives on the line for our safety and freedom. The men and women who comprise America's military forces make a tremendous sacrifice on the battlefield and many return home wounded and broken.

More than 2 million disabled veterans live in the United States and that number grows every day.

The physical and mental scars some U.S. troops bring back from their deployments can last a lifetime. Veterans try to treat those wounds in many ways.

For one group of wounded warriors, the road to recovery includes pushing themselves to the limit.

Life Forever Changed

"It started off like any other day, I was with a recon platoon," Derrick Ford told CBN News.

Ford served with the U.S. Army in Afghanistan where an IED changed his life forever.

"The entire floor of the striker had bubbled up just from the energy and heat that tried to penetrate through," he said.

Ford lost his left leg in the explosion. An injury like that can be debilitating, but not for this soldier. Ford is focused on proving it's only a wound, not a disability.

That's why he decided to pushed himself to the extreme by climbing one of the tallest mountains in the United States.

"I've jumped out of perfectly good airplanes. I've scuba dove in the Caribbean. Next on my list, climb a mountain," he said.

Mount Rainer, or as the locals in Washington state simply call it, "The mountain," provides one of the most challenging mountaineer adventures to be found anywhere on the North American continent.

About 13,000 people attempt to climb it each year. Only about half of those make it, and on average about two or three people die trying to make it to the summit. It is a challenge even for the most able-bodied climber.

Helping Vets Climb

Two other wounded veterans have joined Ford in attempting to climb this active volcano, including another amputee.

A group known as "Camp Patriot" organizes the climb. It specializes in taking disabled veterans on outdoor adventures.

"That's the beauty of Camp Patriot, getting them out, trying something new, or doing something they used to do not knowing if they can actually do it," Micah Clark, the group's founder, explained.

A veteran himself, Clark's strong Christian faith gives him a heart to help heal returning soldiers.

"Hopefully show them through our love and compassion that, one, we are Christians. Two, we are patriotic American's and that someone loves and cares about them," he said.

"That's the base to start from, and then you can open the door to possibly witness to them," he added.

Before heading up the mountain, Ford and the other verterans knelt at the foot of Mt. Rainer and asked God for protection.

"God, we lift up Erick, Derek, and Mag to you Lord, and we just ask that you just surround them with your angels and protect them as they climb this mountain," the team prayed.

Journey to the Top

The trek up the mountain is grueling. Custom-made prosthetic legs help the men grip the snow and ice-covered terrain.

"We don't carry them to the top of the mountain, they have to do it under their own steam," Clark explained. "It's raising that bar again to show them that they have abilities to live life and not look at the disability."

A support team that includes active duty rangers is on hand to help with the climb. Many of the team, like Bob Vera, are volunteers who just want to say, 'Thank you,' to the veterans.

"I believe it's my responsibility to do it. I believe I am my brother's keeper. That when guys come back wounded, it's not the government's job to find them and assist them," Vera told CBN News.

"I think every Christian has a responsibility to be our brothers' keeper," he said.

Gil Magallanes, a retired Green Beret, is one of the disabled vets making the climb. He said extreme adventures, like climbing Mt. Rainer, help overcome the mental wounds of war.

"This is one of the biggest factors about keeping me from becoming a couch potato, depression, PTSD," he said.

"If I don't do stuff like this, challenge myself. The Army challenged me. I met those challenges. Civilian life doesn't challenge me. I got to keep challenging myself," he said.

Anything Is Possible

The summit attempt is the most demanding section of the climb. The men must wear ropes and harnesses.

They face below freezing temperatures, navigate steep volcanic ridges, and cross over moving glaciers. They do it all while fighting the high altitude for every breath of the thin air.

The team eventually made it the summit of Mt. Rainier at 14,411-feet above sea level.

These wounded American heroes beat the odds, reigniting their fighter instinct, and proving to themselves that anything is possible.

"When you see guys with one leg, stomping to the top, then you think about what you can't do in life, and you see that, really it's humbling," Vera said. "Hey, I did it. I climbed that, and it was tough."

"And that's what allows them to earn back that which was taken from them on the day that bomb exploded or they got shot," he said.

"I'm really glad I'm out here and I'm glad that I got to meet the guys that I've met," Ford said. "I'm definitely hoping to build and sustain some relationships with these guys."

Relationships that Camp Patriot uses to heal the wounds of war while showing these American heroes the love of Jesus Christ.

*Originally aired October 5, 2011.

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Lee Webb and Tyler James

Lee Webb and Tyler James

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