by Luis Benitez
October 19 LUKLA, NEPAL – At Outward Bound we tell everyone that participates in our programs that “there is more in you than you know.” I used to think this phrase summed up the efforts and goals of OB as an organization pretty succinctly. After working with these Soldiers on this amazing expedition, my perceptions have shifted to a whole new level.
Outward Bound’s history with the military dates back to the Vietnam era, serving returning veterans through five-day mountaineering programs out of our base camp in Leadville, Colorado that utilizes the same course area that the 10th Mountain Division employed to train Soldiers before their deployment to Europe during World War II. These programs were designed on the same premise as most OB courses, take a group of strangers, place them in an intense environment to undertake exceptional challenges, and shape the outcomes to assure lessons learned are taken back home to help make everyday life more extraordinary.
It’s one thing to facilitate this process in Colorado, but to take a group of Soldiers where some have been literally blown up, shot at, and torn apart and take them to the Himalaya to climb a peak was a daunting prospect. However once Erik, Jeff and I started talking about Outward Bound’s part in this, we realized that thru OB’s history with serving veterans we could do more, and provide more to these Soldiers in an effort to continue their road to recovery.
So on this expedition, we wanted to combine the prospect of climbing the mountain, with the tangible transference of what a true Outward Bound course would provide, giving the effort shape and definition. In working with Peter Baliey of The Prouty Project, The Heroes Journey started to take shape. To define this process, after each day’s journey, we came together as a team to talk about high/low points of the day, as well as talk about bigger topics like who were your “allies” back home? How do you define your “road of challenges” thru life?
The analogy I used for this process was one of building a house. Some days you would build a few walls, perhaps put in a window or two. Some days saw a wall destroyed, or the “misuse” of “tools,” but the overall effort, if the work was quality, was of a structure that would stand the test of time.
As always with expeditions such as these, one asks the question, “What’s next for us?” As I stood on the summit of Lobuje I turned to one of the Soldiers named Chad. This big, burly bearded guy standing both on his one “real” leg and his one prosthetic leg hold the American Flag with tears silently streaming down his face, I sat there and thought of all he had been through to reach this point, and realized the tears he had on his face were the same that were streaming down mine. Chad is the finest example of where my perception has shifted, all the way back to Outward Bound’s motto from the 70’s thru the 90’s pulled from Ralph Waldo Emerson. “That which we are, we are, one equal temper of heroic hearts. Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will. To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”