Airmen take on tallest mountains for Air Force

  • Published
  • By Sheila Rupp
  • Nucleus Journalist
Capt. Rob Marshall loves mountain climbing, but that isn't the reason he has set out to climb the highest peak on each continent - he's doing it because he loves the Air Force.

Growing up in Seattle, Captain Marshall, a member of the 71st Special Operations Squadron here, had a love for the outdoors. His family took short hiking and camping trips, but mountain climbing was not a family hobby. As a child, he heard stories about climbers on Mount Everest, but didn't picture himself climbing the "seven summits" until a trip to Nepal.

The seven summits are made up of the highest mountain on each continent; they are Mount Kosciuszko, Australia; Mount Elbrus, Europe; Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa; Mount Everest, Asia; Mount Aconcagua, South America; Mount McKinley, North America; and Vinson Massif, Antarctica, according to the "Bass List." Dick Bass was the first person to complete the "grand slam" of mountaineering. Some mountaineers exclude Mount Kosciuszko because it is Australia's highest mainland peak and add New Guineas' Carstensz Pyramid.

Captain Marshall attended the U.S. Air Force Academy and graduated in 2001. After graduation, he traveled to Nepal where he went river rafting and trekking. He hiked to the base camp of Mount Everest and said that was when his dream hit him. He said that he automatically began dreaming of coming back to climb to the summit to represent a reason bigger than himself: the Air Force. He said that he felt compelled to climb to show the country, and the world, what a positive impact the Air Force has and what amazing things its Airmen do every day. Captain Marshall didn't know how or when he would return to climb to the summit, but knew he would someday.

While living in England, stationed at Royal Air Force Mildenhall, Captain Marshall was looking for a roommate for his traditional thatch-roofed house. Conversing online and by phone, Captain Marshall agreed to have then-1st Lt. Mark Uberuaga move in with him. When he began moving in, Lieutenant Uberuaga wore a mountaineering guide jacket and the two began talking about climbing. The two solidified plans to begin the big climb: successfully completing the grand slam of mountaineering together in the name of the Air Force. They are calling the challenge the 7 Summits Challenge.

The pair climbed Mount Elbrus, Russia, in July 2005, reaching the summit ahead of schedule, accomplishing the climb in 10 days. They climbed in memory of the crew of Wrath 11. Wrath 11, an MC-130H Combat Talon II, crashed March 31, 2005, killing nine Airmen from the 352nd Special Operations Group.

In July 2006, Captains Marshall and Uberuaga climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, taking with them two civilians and six other Air Force officers. They completed the climb in 11 days and donated their clothing and equipment to Tanzanian charities.

Captains Marshall and Uberuaga also helped to raise money for the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, which provides college scholarships and educational counseling to the children of special operations personnel who are killed in training accidents or combat missions. They raised more than $2,000 for SOWF leading up to the Mount Elbrus climb and more than $10,000 for the Mount Kilimanjaro climb.

The British Army and Royal Air Force have climbed Mount Everest, but no military group has ever attempted to climb the seven summits. Captain Marshall has every intention that Air Force members will raise the Air Force flag on each peak and complete the challenge. He said their vision of the challenge is "Air Force members working together to reach the summit of the highest peak on each continent in order to fly the Air Force flag with pride."

More importantly, he said, the goal is "to instill upon all Airmen, as well as the American public, a stronger sense of pride in our Air Force's amazing range of people and capabilities."

They would also like to emphasize the Air Force's dedication to physical fitness and personal growth.

The pair has been approved to take part in the "we are all recruiters program." Captain Marshall said he hopes that the history of the climbs and success will provide a positive image for the Air Force and will help to attract recruits through the WEAR program.

Captains Marshall and Uberuaga have set a timeline to finish the challenge, though it is tentative because of their Air Force careers and operations. They currently hope to complete the challenge by reaching the summit of Mount Everest between 2009 and 2011.

Captain Marshall volunteers at Outdoor Recreation here repairing bikes and skis and works at the climbing wall. He says his personal goal is to use their Web site, www.usaf7summits .com, to be a portal for Air Force members to find others interested in mountaineering and as a means of communication for hobbyists.

Captain Marshall will be leaving for Argentina to climb Mount Aconcagua Feb. 12. He will be joined by C-130 pilot 1st Lt. Heidi Hofstetter, stationed at Dyess AFB, Texas, and former special operations intelligence officer Justin Henkel.
Captain Uberuaga is unable to make the climb because of current operations. The climb will take 19 days to reach the summit, where the Air Force flag will be flown.

He said he is extremely excited about the climb and what completing the challenge means for the Air Force. "We're going to take the grand slam," he said. He and Captain Uberuaga use Outdoor Recreation facilities and fitness centers on base to train for their climbs. "Our people work out in our gyms and then go up to 23,000 feet. How cool is that?" he said

Anyone interested in being a part of the challenge is welcome to join in on future climbs. For information about the 7 Summits Challenge and to see pictures from the climbs, go to