10th Mountain trooper’s first visit to Colorado | VailDaily.com

10th Mountain trooper’s first visit to Colorado

Former Army medic Robert Pinkham may have suffered a traumatic head injury while fighting in Iraq, but he'll never forget the day he met Christopher Sitton. The two were stationed together in advanced individual training in Fort Drum, New York.

"He had a Jeep, I think everyone in Colorado drives a Jeep," Pinkham recalls. "He showed up, and his license plate had the 10th Mountain logo right in the middle of it."

Sitton was from Montrose and graduated from Montrose High School in 2003.

"To him it was just a childhood dream just to be a part of the 10th Mountain Division, just to have that patch on your shoulder," Pinkham said. "Every day he was just proud as a peacock to wear that 10th Mountain patch."

Sitton joined the 10th Mountain Division in 2004 and went on to fight in Afghanistan.

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"He paid the ultimate price on August 19, 2006," Pinkham said.

Pinkham has remained close with Sitton's family ever since, but had never been to Colorado until earlier this month. Sitton used to share stories with Pinkham about the 10th Mountain Division's legacy in Colorado.

"He went to tell me the 10th Mountain, they're from Camp Hale, that's Colorado," Pinkham said. "That belongs to Colorado."

MOTORCYCLE THERAPY

Pinkham was afforded the opportunity to visit Colorado through Indian Motorcycles and the Veterans Charity Ride, where wounded and amputee veterans ride from Los Angeles to the bike rally in Sturgis, South Dakota. Pinkham got to ride a 2016 Indian Roadmaster with a champion side car.

"It's just an amazing, amazing machine," Pinkham said.

The point of the ride is "motorcycle therapy" for veterans such as Pinkham, according to Army Airborne Paratrooper Indian Dave, who got the idea for the ride in 2014 while riding solo to the bike rally. Veteranscharityride.org details the experience:

"Along the way Indian Dave met a fellow paratrooper from his same unit and they quickly became friends. They talked about fellow veterans that were returning from Iraq and Afghanistan and how so many are having a difficult time adjusting to civilian life after their war experiences.

"On the ride back home Dave couldn't stop thinking about his fellow veterans and wanted to do something special for them and make a difference in their lives. Then it hit him … let's use motorcycles to help our veterans. (Dave was born into the family's motorcycle business, he grew up on motorcycles, it's in his blood, he knows the impact and value of motorcycle therapy.)

"Dave then contacted his business partner Robert Manciero, an Emmy Award winning producer and director and told him his ideas.

"They came up with the concept of a ride which would include the therapeutic effects of riding a motorcycle — aka, motorcycle therapy — and create an adventure of a lifetime for wounded veterans. At the same time they would film the ride so the message could be shared with as many veterans as possible.

"They needed bikes and support, so they contacted Indian Motorcycles, which seemed natural since Dave had fallen in love with his new Indian Chieftain. Dave and Robert told them about the plans and the program. Indian said yes right from the start.

"Realizing they would need sidecars to accommodate amputee veterans in a safe comfortable manner they reached out to Craig Arrojo, president of Champion Sidecars, explaining the program and their needs, he also said 'yes' right from the start."

'VERY ELITE GROUP'

Pinkham, like Sitton, had also dreamed of becoming a part of the 10th Mountain Division since he was a child.

The 10th Mountain Division was the United States' first mountain warfare unit, where troopers received specialized training for fighting in cold and mountainous conditions. It was started in nearby Camp Hale in the 1940s to prepare the Army for the alpine combat they would encounter in Italy in World War II. The 10th Mountain Division is now stationed out of the mountains in northern New York state.

"I grew up near Fort Drum, watching the guys with the 10th Mountain on their shoulders," Pinkham said. "Those guys were rock stars."

Pinkham completed two combat tours with the 10th Mountain Division in Iraq, serving in Baghdad from 2006 to 2007 and Tikrit from 2007 to 2008.

He returned home with post-traumatic stress disorder, which makes him feel "on guard all the time," Pinkham told reporter Hector Gonzalez with the Camarillo Acorn before leaving for the Veterans Charity Ride.

"PTSD is exhausting," Pinkham told Gonzalez. "By the end of the day you're just so worn out from being constantly anxious all the time."

The motorcycle therapy allowed him to let his guard down a bit, joined by two dozen veteran dealing with the same issues as him.

Along the way, he received a warm welcome from communities across the U.S., especially here in Eagle County where people noticed his 10th Mountain patch right away.

"It makes me feel good, because I wear this patch with so much pride in knowing that I was a part of a very elite group," Pinkham said. "Those original 10th Mountain guys, I have so much respect for them."

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