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Backpacker Magazine – April 2008

Shock And Awe

You think climbing Rainier is tough? Try it blind. Or with one leg. Then see who you pity.

by: Michael Perry, Photos by Gabe Rogel

Ed Salau on the Muir Snowfield
Ed Salau on the Muir Snowfield
Salau cramponing toward the Nisqually Glacier
Salau cramponing toward the Nisqually Glacier
Scott Smiley's climbing party on Disappointment Cleaver
Scott Smiley's climbing party on Disappointment Cleaver
Salau adjusts his $30,000 titanium prosthesis
Salau adjusts his $30,000 titanium prosthesis
Smiley feels his way across Pebble Creek
Smiley feels his way across Pebble Creek
Salau on his knees at the foot of the volcano
Salau on his knees at the foot of the volcano
Guides Rausch and Fawley modify Salau's crampon
Guides Rausch and Fawley modify Salau's crampon
Slow progress on Day 1 results in a forced bed down below Camp Muir
Slow progress on Day 1 results in a forced bed down below Camp Muir
    Tags:

And he stayed in the Army–helping others drive an evolution in military policy that is beginning to regard the wounded soldier not as a limited resouce to be jettisoned but as someone uniquely prepared to serve the mission in other capacities.

One year after his injury, Smiley was assigned to Army Accessions Command, helping to prepare new soldiers and their families for the transition from civilian to military life. Now he is obtaining his MBA from Duke University in preparation for a career as a professor at West Point. If he makes it to the top of the mountain tomorrow, he will have to hustle back down, because on the following evening he is due in Washington, D.C., to be recognized as the Army Times Soldier of the Year.

Ed Salau and Scott Smiley have come to the mountain hoping other soldiers will follow. Smiley is here at the behest of Micah Clark, executive director of Camp Patriot, a nascent nonprofit intended to arrange for volunteer guides to take disabled veterans on outdoor adventures, and Salau is representing the Wounded Warrior Project (WWP), an organization he first encountered when representatives delivered a backpack of toiletries to him bedside at Walter Reed. Five weeks later, they took him downhill skiing. "I didn't even have my prosthetic leg yet, and I was going fast," he says. "My kids looked at me and they were thinking, 'Hey, Dad's back!'"

A New Jersey native, Salau went straight into the Marine Corps after graduating in the bottom five percent of his high school class, completing boot camp 21 days before his 18th birthday. His service earned him a college education, and he found work as an occupational safety and health specialist. The position was still waiting for him when he returned from Iraq. "I stayed on for a while," he says, "but after the the combat and rehab, the desk job wasn't a good fit." In February 2006, he joined the staff of WWP, where his responsibilities include management of an adaptive sports program for wounded soldiers.

The point, he says, is not just to take veterans on a hike, but to help them re-engage the world. "I lost a leg, but I had an MBA and a job. I kept thinking of all these kids in my command, 19-year-olds who came straight from some small town or inner city, often from difficult circumstances, without the best academic background. They don't know what they're capable of in the first place; then they get hurt and suddenly they're back home looking in the mirror thinking they are less of a person. That's why I go to work."



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READERS COMMENTS

Agnes Currran-Tonkin
Jun 06, 2011

Ed, you are my hero! How proud I am of you, and how wonderful that SIU brought us together. I'll tell Jo about this site so she can glory in knowing you too. Keep up the good work. We know you have a big heart and we appreciate it so much.

Agnes Currran-Tonkin
Jun 06, 2011

Ed, you are my hero! How proud I am of you, and how wonderful that SIU brought us together. I'll tell Jo about this site so she can glory in knowing you too. Keep up the good work. We know you have a big heart and we appreciate it so much.

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May 19, 2011

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Ames
Jan 24, 2011

Excellent writing

Sung
Oct 21, 2010

I just want to thank you so, 1Lt Ed Salau for what you did and for who you are! Thank you so much again!

Dave
Oct 07, 2010

I know this is like two years later, but I found a back issue and thought this story was incredible. God bless you, Ed, for all you do for your wounded brothers and sisters, and for all you've done for the rest of us too.

Susie Bare
Jul 09, 2008

Ed, I belong to the Havelock Civitans and I was so impressed with you when you spoke to our club and I am still impressed. You are doing a very commendable thing by sharing with us about your struggle and others too, I really admire you soooo much ! keep up the good work ! Semper Fi

Donna
Jun 29, 2008

Thanks for telling this story...you did a great job Mike. I am proud of you and glad you are safe.

Liz Flaherty
Jun 13, 2008

Oh, man.

Thank you.

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