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From depths to heights: Missileers climb rocks, mountains

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Jason Wiese
  • 90th Missile Wing Public Affairs
Sometimes Airmen who spend a lot of time deep underground, such as missileers, make up for it with the amount of time they spend high on cliff faces.

Capt. Jeff Rees, 321st Missile Squadron flight commander, and Capt. Austin Winner, 90th Operations Group evaluator, are two such Airmen. Any chance they get, they spend climbing rocks, mountains or anything else with a steep enough face and sure enough hand holds, they said.

Having climbed in places such as Moab, Utah; Rocky Mountain National Park, Colo.; and Joshua Tree, Calif., these missileers have become enthusiastic climbers. However, they both had to start somewhere.

"I just thought it looked cool, so I got a book and read about it," Rees said. "I decided to give it a shot."

Rees began his 10-year hobby reading books about rock climbing with his wife. They knew nothing about it and decided to start from the ground up, he said.

"She's still the one I climb with more than anyone else," Rees said.

Winner said he learned at a young age how to rock climb from his parents, but did not really get into it until later.

"After I graduated from the [U.S. Air Force] Academy, [Colo.], and I came out here, I started getting really into it," Winner said.

Both Rees and Winner said their love of climbing comes from the thrill of the challenge.

"It's about pushing yourself to the edge mentally and physically," Winner said. "It's definitely a rush. A lot of times, the amount of effort it takes to move up five feet is incredible. It takes a lot of aerobic and anaerobic effort."

One can never get good enough, so there is always a compelling reason to keep climbing and training, Rees said.

"It gets to the point that the only reason I go to the gym every day is so I can be a better climber," Rees said.

Both captains said, despite the difficulty of climbing, it offers a chance to escape from the stresses of life.

"The perfect climb is when you are so focused on the moment you forget all about the problems in your life, and the only thing that matters is the next two feet of the climb," Rees said.

Some traits of successful climbers translate well into the missileer position, Winner said. One such trait is the ability to handle stress.

"If you freak out on the rock, things will end badly for you," Winner said. "Being able to handle stress, in that way, translates perfectly to being a missileer."

Climbing is a physically demanding activity, and people who do it enough can not help getting in good shape, Rees said.

People who would like to get into climbing should begin slowly, he said.

"I suggest climbing with someone else who knows what's going on and knows how to climb safely," Rees said.

Safety equipment for climbing includes harnesses, ropes strong enough to support the weight of an 18-wheeler, carabineers , helmets and strong connecting devices.

"All that together forms your safety net, and even all of that isn't foolproof," Winner said.

People willing to take the risk and climb to new heights will see the world from a different perspective people who never climb will never see, he said.

Winner's advice for Airmen who claim there is nothing to do in Cheyenne, Wyo., is this: "You're surrounded by some of the best recreation in the country, and some of it is within an hour drive. Just turn off the TV and go outside."