want to climb Everest to be a part of something truly
amazing," Merrin said. "Being an avid mountaineer, this
was an opportunity that I could not turn down. I had
heard about the team for years and knew that it would be
a tremendous honor to be a part of such an elite group
of climbers tackling the highest mountain in the world,
and most importantly, supporting the ideals that the
Seven Summits Team represents."
The risky, ambitious quest is part of the U.S. Air Force
Seven Summits Challenge, a tax-exempt organization
created in 2005 by special operations pilot Maj. Rob
Marshall. The organization strives to honor service
members who have lost their lives in the line of duty by
leading teams of Airmen to the summit of each
continent's highest peak. "What we want people to learn
is that anything they're good at, whether it's climbing
a mountain, running marathons, playing music or
designing Web pages, they can find a way to use their
skills to make the world better, whether it be promoting
the Air Force or promoting the charity," Marshall said.
The organization has raised more than $60,000 for
charities such as the Special Operations Warrior
Foundation and the That Others May Live Foundation. The
team has conquered six of the summits; Everest is the
"You're not going to find
anybody on our climb that isn't in excellent shape and
passionate about this," Marshall said. "The trip
requires lot of money and time. They're all experienced
climbers and two thirds of the team are Academy grads."
Marshall, a 2001 Academy graduate, said it was through
his participation in the Academy's mountaineering and
explorer's club that heightened his love for climbing.
He scaled 27 peaks as a cadet. Marshall also plans to
honor his tradition of doing push-ups on the summit.
goal is to see how many I can do in a minute," Marshall
said. "I started doing push-ups on Colorado fourteeners
as a cadet. It's fun to think that I've done them on
every mountain peak since being a freshman."
The team's physical preparation for Everest has included
regular gym training and heavy backpacking each week.
Marshall said he's also encouraged the team to swim, to
get a full body work out and practice controlled
breathing to prepare them for the use of bottled oxygen
"The incline in Manitou is my
personal beast," Klitzke said. "I try to do that about
twice a week and climb fourteeners. I'm pretty lucky
with the elevation in Colorado Springs already being
Marshall, 34, will lead the pack up Everest. He said the
group will move at a slower pace to improve their
chances of getting as many people as possible to the
"You can climb Everest at a faster
pace, but from our research, we are giving ourselves the
best chance to acclimatize and the optimal amount of
time to reach the top," Marshall said.
Marshall is aware of the risks that come with
mountaineering. In 2008, when Marshall's team climbed
North America's highest peak, Mount McKinley, the group
was tent bound for seven days after being caught in a
Being patient, reading the
weather correctly and making the right risk management
decisions will be important, Marshall said. "I think the
biggest risk we're going to face on Everest is, 'How do
we manage our team's schedule to avoid crowds but still
give ourselves the best chance to get to the summit?".
Klitzke said he hopes his mission to the top of the
world will empower cadets. "Hopefully they will see
beyond their four years here, see what's available and
what they can accomplish in the Air Force and outside of
it. It's amazing when you set big goals and tackle them
-- what you can bring yourself to do."
"It's important for people to know that the Air Force is
comprised of people who pursue their passions with an
interest of improving themselves. Climbing Everest
doesn't necessarily change the world, but it creates an
awareness that we are capable of outstanding feats,"
Merrin said. On the team are:
Maj. Rob Marshall, 34, a V-22 Osprey pilot, from Mercer
Island, Wash., stationed in Amarillo, Texas
Capt. Andrew Ackles, 29, a TH-1N instructor pilot, from
Ashland, Ore., stationed at Fort Rucker, Ala.
Capt. Kyle Martin, 29, a T-38 Talon pilot, from
Manhattan, Kan., stationed at Langley Air Force Base,
Capt. Marshall Klitzke, 30, a KC-135 Stratotanker pilot
from Lemmon, S.D., currently an instructor pilot at the
Air Force Academy.
Capt. Colin Merrin, 28, a GPS satellite operations
mission commander from Santee, Calif., stationed at
Schriever AFB, Colo.
Staff Sgt. Nick Gibson, 36, a Reserve pararescueman and
physician-assistant student from Gulf Breeze, Fla.,
stationed at Patrick AFB, Fla.