Inside the Gates: Air Force Reservist helps others reach new heights

Published: Oct. 6, 2021 at 9:06 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - June 12 is a day Lt. Col. Rob Marshall will not forget, as it’s the day he reached the top of Denali. Excitement is not the only thing he felt that day.

“There were also some deep emotions about kind of looking back on the last 20 years of combat, and all my friends that I’ve lost,” Marshall said. “And how much work it took.”

The climb capped off Marshall’s Seven Summits Challenge, a program he created in 2005. Those seven summits represent the highest points on each continent — Russia’s Mount Elbrus, Mount Everest in Asia, Kilimanjaro in Africa, Aconcagua in Argentina, Vinson in Antarctica, Kosciuszko in Australia, and Denali in Alaska.

The general challenge to climb the seven tallest summits is popular in the mountaineering world, and there are several variations of the challenge that climbers participate in.

“I started the Seven Summits Challenge as a team event. So it was not about me climbing the seven summits,” Marshall said. “I wanted to see airmen get up there, of different backgrounds whether they be active or not active, men and women, people of different race and color.”

The Seven Summits Challenge, according to Marshall, originally started to help build camaraderie and resiliency among active duty and retired airmen.

But it expanded to help those who suffered from depression. That’s something Marshall understands as he said he dealt with it after the deaths of some friends during a 2005 training mission in Albania.

“It shook me to my core,” Marshall said. “It kind of hurt me emotionally. It made me realize how close I’d come to death a few times.”

He did not know how to overcome it. But, others had some possible solutions.

“The mental health experts in the Air Force have said ‘well what is something that you can use to overcome depression?’” Marshall said. “And hen they learned about my background they go ... ‘why don’t you go climb a mountain.”

Marshall reached the summit on his second attempt. He got to within nearly 6,000 of it back in 2013 until his commanding officers contacted the Air Force Reservist.

“We need you back in Florida right now. I said ‘great, sounds good. I’m going to summit tomorrow. In the next 24 hours I’ll be on the summit, and then I’ll come straight back,’” Marshall recalled. “And they said ‘you don’t understand, we want you back right now.’”

Marshall had to wait until this past June to complete his mission.

“I was laughing and crying pretty much at the same time on top of North America come June 12,” Marshall said.

He accomplished his goal. Now, he helps others reach new heights as well.

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