Climbing Mount Everest: Amputees Hope To Raise Awareness For Soldier PTSD

Two military veterans, Thomas “Charlie” Linville and Chad Jukes, are attempting to become the first combat amputees to reach the summit of Mount Everest. Both of the men are raising money and awareness for different veterans support organizations.

Linville and Jukes each lost a leg while serving in the Armed Forces in the Middle East. The two men have never met and though each is determined to be the first combat amputee to successfully reach the top of Everest, they have different motivations for pushing them to the top.

“My message is anything is possible. It is just not me being an amputee, but anyone sitting on the couch around the world that has problems — you can overcome life, it is just how determined you are, ” Linville said.

Linville was an explosives expert serving in Afghanistan in 2011, when he went to investigate an explosion that wounded his colleague. He was hit by another explosive device and seriously wounded, which required having his right leg amputated below the knee. After retiring from the Marines, he became involved in The Heroes Project, a non-profit organization that helps wounded veterans and active-duty service members to participate in adventure expeditions to foster teamwork and form lasting bonds that often flow from combat experiences.

Jukes, who served in the Army’s transportation division, was on assignment in Northern Iraq in 2006 when his truck was struck by an anti-tank mine. The blast shattered his heel and broke his femur. When doctors told him that the injury would leave him with debilitating, chronic pain, Jukes opted to have the leg removed from below the knee.

“Climbing a mountain and serving in the military definitely have a number of similarities.” said Jukes during an ABC News special last month.

Before joining the Army, Jukes was an avid sports climber. He has climbed Mount Rainier, the Grand Teton and Lobuche, a 20,000-foot peak in Nepal — all activities which he claims help manage the intense stress of dealing with traumatic war experiences.

“For a very, very long time, I don’t even think that I consciously acknowledged that I was living with PTSD because I was doing such a good job of pushing it down,” said Jukes. “I would like the country to think about what our veterans are going through. I hope that veterans who are watching this know that it’s okay to seek help.”

Jukes’ climb will benefit a non-profit organization called U.S. Expeditions & Explorations (USX). The organization has two focuses — research initiatives and Nexus expeditions. Both enable soldiers and veterans to continue serving their country, while furthering science, exploration or other causes important to the United States.

USX was co-founded in 2015 by West Point cadet Harold Earls and Army Capt. Matt Hickey to raise awareness and funds for mental health initiatives in order to improve veterans’ quality of life. Climbing Mount Everest will be its inaugural expedition and the team will conduct research and testing with USX Expedition Soldiers and equipment in order to help fellow soldiers improve their capabilities and equipment in rugged conditions.

Both groups will start the climb to the summit of Everest in early April and both are taking the less-traveled northern route out of Tibet. Although the two have made it clear that they support one another, leaders from The Heroes Project claim that USX and Jukes are trying to “steal Charlie’s [Linville] thunder.”

USX founder Harold Earls has denied that claim and says that they hope to meet Linville and his team during the summit attempt. Though their goals are very similar, Linville said that he is not focused on competing with Jukes; his goal in climbing Everest is to inspire other combat amputees like him.

“Getting to the top I kind of view as vanquishing demons, showing all these people that, ‘Don’t you have pity for disabled veterans because we’re capable of so much more than you think,'” Linville said.

[Photo by Paula Bronstein/Getty Images]