My name is Robert Day and I am a Marine Veteran with active service from 2002 to 2006. During my enlistment, I became an Infantry machinegunner and completed two deployments with 1st Battalion, 8th Marines. Embedded with 1/8, I carried an M240G machinegun in support of my platoon during the second battle of Fallujah in November of 2004. This mass raid was called Operation Phantom Fury. With five other batallions along our flanks, we fought and killed the enemy in the houses and streets of Fallujah, Iraq for multiple weeks. During one particular vehicle-mounted patrol outside of Fallujah prior to the battle, an IED comprised of multiple enemy artillery rounds detonated next to my humvee as I was mounted inside of the exposed machinegun turrett. It was one of many moderately concussive blasts that never took me out of the fight, but were the reality of war. As a result of the blasts, I was diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post traumatic stress (PTS).
Upon discharge from active duty, I moved to Colorado in search of a new life filled with outdoor adventure. It was a personal journey to manage the pain connected to the 21 Marines from my batallion who were killed in action during the battle two years prior. I also simply wanted to uncover the joys and rewards found in performing as well as I could in nature with all that I had been given. I wanted to climb and navigate the tallest mountains in our country in order to find out how far I was able to push myself. The improvment in my quality of life has been profound. I have naturally felt that, despite my past injuries, consistent connection to nature is what heals. From hiking the entire Colorado Trail and climbing half of our state's fourteeners, to hiking the entire John Muir Trail and climbing Mount Whitney, I have found joy and empowerment in planning and executing outdoor adventures alone, and with fellow veterans and friends alike. The physical and mostly mental challenges of climbing mountains, enduring weight bearing rucks, navigation, complete connection to the earth, and living in the harsh elements are what I feel like I have been put on this earth to enjoy and share with others. My journey thus far has included the activities of road bicycling, backpacking, mountaineering, and big game hunting in the mountains and foothills of Colorado, and I hope it does not stop there.
According to Dr. Jeffrey Hebert, the effects of elevation changes and acclimation at high altitude on human physiology in military veterans with traumatic brain injuries has yet to be scientifically investigated. After 20 years of combat overseas, our U.S. veteran community has sustained over 400,000 individual cases of TBI, with the vast majority of these being blast-related. In the wake of this, veterans have been afflicted with mental health, psychological, and behavioural problems. Emotional disregulation features such as irratability, for example, desperately needs to be challenged with wilderness connection in order to heal. It will be a long, slow journey, but nature-connected pursuits are essential in order to help veterans neurologically rebalance themselves. After chasing and killing the enemy overseas and getting injured in the process, veterans need proper reintegration by pursuing a different goal, this time in a safer, more hypervigilance-free space that is larger than life. The upcoming study on the Paper Crane team by Dr. Hebert and the Marcus Institute for Brain Health will not only be the first of its kind as a long term, five to seven year study, but will help pioneer the future of brain health for the wounded veteran community.
As a veteran, adventurer and writer, I am beyond excited to climb Mount Kilamanjaro in September of 2021 alongside fellow veterans with The Paper Crane Foundation. I feel like I'll be a valuable asset, since I'm profiicient at operational work-ups regarding training, I have a good understanding of the importance of spirit, morale, and comradery and putting the team first throughout training. Along with the work-up, I intend to contribute well-researched and conceptualized weekly blogs and articles for the public and our financial supporters to read and enjoy. I plan to complete between 6-8 fourteen-thousand-foot peaks in Colorado in the upcoming summer of 2021 prior to Kilamanjaro. Throughout these months of training, I intend to keep my team mates up to date with the climbing schedule in efforts to consistently get as many of us trained at elevation as possible prior to the expedition.
I am certain that, as a team of wounded warriors, we can help create a more outoor-challenge focused veteran culture for better brain health and quality of life. As a team, we will provide valuable data for an important and necessary long term study that will serve as a milestone and catalyst for future research into traumatic brain injuries. Thank you for your time and donation toward our effort!