In 1991 during Operation Desert Storm, a young Air Force Captain, Steve Connolly was on the ground serving as a Forward Air Controller. He controlled 30 airstrikes against enemy targets and captured six prisoners in a battle where one prisoner’s leg was shot off from the knee down. Captain Connolly stabilized the prisoner by applying a tourniquet to the man’s bleeding limb and then handed him off to the medics, never to see him again. Captain Connolly always wondered what would become of the prisoner and what monumental challenges he would face as a new amputee in Iraq.
In May 2011, retired New England Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi, former Tennessee Titans Coach Jeff Fisher and former Philadelphia Eagles tight end Chad Lewis took four injured service members on an expedition to climb Mount Kilimanjaro.
Inspired by the project and the intense curiosity that followed his experience in Desert Storm, Steve Connolly, now a retired Air Force Reserve Lieutenant Colonel and current American Airlines pilot from Keller, Texas, decided to form his own climbing expedition called Kilimanjaro Warriors. His goal is to give disabled veterans an additional motivational tool in their rehabilitation processes and provide them with a monumental goal that once achieved, will give them an incentive to lead a fulfilling life. He plans to lead an excursion with six veterans that experienced leg amputations to climb Mount Kilimanjaro beginning February 10, 2014.
Attempting to summit Mount Kilimanjaro with Connolly is Marine Sergeant Erich Ellis, a below-knee amputee; Air Force Captain Sarah Evans, a full-leg amputee, and her husband, Air Force Captain Joe Evans; Army Staff Sergeant Orlando Gill, an above-knee amputee; Oklahoma Army Guard Sergeant Kisha Makerney, a below-knee amputee; Marine Corporal Nick Perales, a below-knee amputee; Military contractor/policeman Steve Martin, a double below-knee amputee; and retired Navy Lieutenant Commander and Center for the Intrepid physical therapist Mark Heniser. Also going on the climb to film and document the trip is cameraman Bevan Bell.
Mount Kilimanjaro is located in Tanzania, Africa, and is the highest freestanding mountain in the world at 19,341 feet above sea level. The mountain supports six major eco-zones: cultivated land, rainforest, heath, moorland, alpine desert and glaciers. It is one of the world’s famous “Seven Summits.”
Assisting with the planning, funding and support of this project is the Air Warrior Courage Foundation, American Airlines, Friends of Freedom and Climb Kili.
Until the expedition, the Kilimanjaro Warriors team will continue fundraising, rehabilitating and training for the climb. In September, the climbers will travel to Flagstaff, Ariz. for four consecutive days of hiking in high altitude.