Story as written by Sgt. Phillip Valentine, 366th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, and submitted to The Journal Gazette by the military’s DVIDS Digital Video & Distribution System:
BAGHDAD – Most Soldiers serving in Iraq had to leave a lot of things behind, at home: loved ones, friends, pets and cherished pastimes. They wait patiently to get back to their favorite fishing hole, restaurant or maybe just a hammock hanging in the cool shade of a large tree in the back yard.
A few Soldiers on Camp Liberty refused to wait. They found a way to make their love of rock climbing a reality, right here in a combat zone.
In a scene typically viewed at the end of the duty day or when Soldiers can find the time to get outside, several Soldiers assigned to 1st Maintenance Company, 373rd Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 15th Sustainment Brigade climbed a bouldering wall, April 24.
“What it does is gets my mind off stress and being away from my family,” said Spc. Colton Sanders, a Wrens, Ga., native. “It is something different, instead of the same old stuff every day.”
Bouldering is a style of rock climbing that does not require rope. It is limited to short climbs, so if there is a fall, it usually will not result in serious injury. Sometimes it is conducted on natural rock boulders, but in this case, it is a man-made structure.
The climbing wall did not magically appear at its current location; it took determination and teamwork to make it a reality.
Soldiers assigned to an Oregon National Guard unit originally built the wall and before they left Iraq, the Soldiers of 1st Maintenance Company offered to buy the plastic handholds and take possession of the wall itself.
Once they took ownership of the wall, they decided to move it closer to the Morale, Welfare and Recreation facility. However, first they had to get permission for the move and prove that the wall would be safe and stable.
The wall was originally designed and built by structural engineers, so blue prints and mathematical equations were left behind with the wall.
“When we went to our sergeant major, we had everything planned,” said Sanders. “We had risk assessments, memorandums and no previous significant injury reports.”
Now that the wall plan was good to go, the move began. It took over two hours to take it down, and over four hours to reassemble it at its new location. At the base of the wall, 12 inches of gravel was laid down, covering an area of almost 30 feet in diameter.
With the wall operational, the Soldiers continue honing their skills and enjoy their time outside.
“I love to climb, and there was nowhere to do it here,” said Sgt. Jeffery Kennedy, a Winchester, Tenn., native. “I love to be fit, but I hate being in the gym—it’s like being inside a box. Climbing builds great core strength and its outside.”
“With our friends, the bugs,” joked Westminster, Mass., native, Spc. Mitchell Fortin. “It’s like having a billion little buddies.”
Fortin also enjoys climbing as a way to add more to his workouts.
“It tires you out quickly, that’s for sure,” said Fortin.
The Soldiers are always trying to get new folks out to climb the wall, which can be climbed anytime – 24-hours a day, seven days a week. All you have to do is bring a battle buddy, a comfortable pair of shoes and check in at the MWR gym. Also, leave your fears behind.
The climbers believe it is important not to be intimidated. It is like any sport, they said, skills start gradually and you progress as you learn.
“There are plenty of people out here that have experience who could teach and help out,” said Cpl. Kyle Logan, a Fort Wayne, Ind., native. “There are spotters to make it as safe as possible.”
Spotters stay behind the climber and safely guide a falling climber to the ground.
Logan said he visits the climbing wall an average of four to five times a week and enjoys his time out there.
“I like the challenge,” he said. “Being a beginner, I can see the progress I have made over time.”
Although the Soldiers enjoy the wall for themselves, they encourage all would-be climbers or even experienced “rock hounds” to come out and climb. They hope to form a climbing club; not only building healthier bodies but healthier friendships.