Soldier blinded in Iraq summits Mt. Rainier
Vail, CO Colorado
SEATTLE- Scott Smiley lives life a little differently since being blinded by shrapnel that ripped through his eyes in a suicide bombing in Iraq, but it’s a challenge he has embraced.
Two days before the 27-year-old Army captain was to be honored as Army Times’ soldier of the year, he reached the summit of Mount Rainier in the latest of what has been a whirlwind of adventures since losing his eyesight in the 2005 bombing in Mosul.
Smiley reached the top of the 14,411-foot peak south of Seattle early Tuesday along with several other climbers, including five to six guides from Rainier Mountaineering Inc.
“The team did summit at 8 a.m. on the north side of the mountain,” said Peter Whittaker, an RMI co-owner who talked to the group by radio. He said the climbing party immediately began descending, so that Smiley could catch a flight to Washington, D.C., where he’s being recognized as the 2007 Soldier of the Year on Thursday. The award is presented by Army Times Publishing Co.
Mount Rainier is considered a technical, difficult climb, and to attempt it climbers must have a certain level of skill or be guided. Of 8,972 attempts made in 2005, the most recent data available, 4,604 reached the summit.
Smiley’s group was led by guides Art Rausch and Andy Kittleson. It set out Sunday, overnighting that evening at about 7,500 feet, below Camp Muir ” the most popular route to the top. It stopped again at roughly 11,000 feet before pushing toward the summit early Tuesday.
The group included retired 1st Lt. Ed Salau of New Bern, N.C., who lost a leg in a 2004 grenade attack in Iraq. Whittaker said Salau had stayed at Camp Muir while the party climbed the peak.
The climb was sponsored by Camp Patriot, a company in Libby, Mont., that provides outdoor recreational experiences for disabled veterans.
Weather, avalanche danger and overall physical health are huge challenges for anybody who climbs Mount Rainier.
For Smiley, the risks are even greater, said Whittaker, noting that throughout the climb, guides had to remain close, with one person in front and behind the soldier.
Whittaker spent about 10 minutes with Smiley’s group Sunday. “I was very impressed. They were moving very well,” he said.
The climb was something the soldier from Pasco, Wash., has wanted to do since visiting the Army’s Fort Lewis several years ago as a West Point cadet. He currently lives in Durham, N.C., with wife, Tiffany, and their 8-week-old son and is assigned to headquarters of the Army Accessions Command at Fort Monroe, Va.
“He loves it,” Tiffany Smiley said during an earlier telephone interview with The Associated Press. “It’s just who he is.”
She added that since being blinded, her husband has surfed off the coast of Hawaii, gone skydiving and skied Vail. He also previously climbed Mount Democrat, a 14,148-foot peak near Alma, Colo.
Smiley was injured in Iraq in April 2005 while serving with the 1st Brigade, 25th Infantry Division ” a Stryker combat team formerly based at Fort Lewis south of Tacoma.
He’d been in the country just six months when his unit came upon a suspicious man sitting in a vehicle. When Smiley fired off a couple warning shots, the man raised his hands and the car exploded.
“Everything went black,” said Tiffany Smiley, recalling the attack as her husband had described it.
Shrapnel embedded in his eyes and brain, leaving him temporarily paralyzed and permanently blind. Doctors had to remove one eye and told him he’d never see again. He was eventually fitted with a prosthetic blue eye.
“It was hard,” she said. “It took him awhile to realize what had happened.”
But after receiving a Purple Heart just weeks after his injury, Smiley realized he could still do things he’d done before, including stay in the Army. He learned to walk with a cane, read Braille and traveled the country to speak to other soldiers.
“He is still the same person, he just does things in a different way now,” his wife said.
– Army Times: http://www.armytimes.com/
– Camp Patriot: http://www.camppatriot.org/