Corporal Warren Wing decided that a yearlong deployment to Iraq was not going to get in the way of his climbing. The 33-year-old father of three and former Marine sniper from Boise, Idaho, enlisted the aid of climbing partner Specialist Chris Chesak, a fellow member of 2-116th Brigade Combat Team (Idaho National Guard), to help him construct a climbing wall.
"Wing is the kind of strong-willed guy that makes things happen," Chesak told SNEWSÂ® "He makes up his mind, rolls up his sleeves, and, before you know it, has half the platoon working on a project."
When breaks in their schedule of patrols, night missions, escorting convoys and guard duty allows, quite a few soldiers from Bravo Company can be found climbing the walls outside their improvised barracks on a small patrol base in the heart of Kirkuk. Two camouflage nets provide shade as soldiers in desert combat uniforms maneuver around the wall decked out in "boonie hats" and climbing shoes.
The top rope wall is 17-feet high with a 4-foot overhang and a separate, 4-foot wide chimney. There is also a 24-foot long bouldering wall, complete with 45-degree training system. A fingerboard and rock rings round out the training apparatus and bring the total number of holds to over 170.
Climbing hold manufacturers Metolius and Nicros provided the holds at a discounted rate to the soldiers, while Fastener Superstore donated many of the t-nuts that secure the holds to the wall. Ropes came from manufacturers Blue Water and Mammut, and Black Diamond provided additional shoes and harnesses.
"We were really fortunate to have all the talents we needed come together in one platoon to make this work," said Specialist Jacob Smith, the third partner in founding the wall. "Wing had the vision, I had the carpentry skills, and Chesak had the (outdoor industry) contacts. It worked out incredibly well."
Chesak told us by email that interest in the wall continues to grow in the unit. Several in the platoon have already ordered climbing starter kits that include shoes, a harness, chalk bag, carabiner and belay device from climbing websites.
"We've had a couple of the mechanics give it a try, our platoon leader was climbing yesterday, and we're looking to get the company commander and first sergeant up here soon," said Smith. "We've been fortunate to have great support from the company's leadership and we're really thankful for that."
Wing added, "And we're even more thankful to just be out here, doing this, climbing whenever we can. Without this, most of these guys would be just playing more video games, or watching another movie on their laptop. This wall lets us get outside, get an awesome workout, and just socialize with each other."
When their deployment in Iraq is over, Chesak told SNEWSÂ® that "we will use the holds we purchased to build another wall at Wing's home back in Idaho. Donated equipment will either be used by Wing on youth climbing trips with his church or donated to a non-profit outdoors organization."
SNEWSÂ® View: For those of you who need a memory jog, Chesak was with the American Alpine Club handling its PR and marketing for years, one of the driving forces for the Moving Mountains award, and now married to Sally Grimes, executive director for Winter Wildlands. If you'd like to email Chesak (email@example.com), to provide words of encouragement, or even an offer of climbing gear for soldiers in the unit (he'll tell you what, if anything, they still need), he'd love to hear from you we're sure. In the meantime, keep your head down Chris. Our collective prayers are with you and the other soldiers still in harm's way, and we look forward to seeing your smiling face back on the outdoor industry trade show floor in 2006.