An elite U.S. Air Force mountain-climbing team that includes an Ashland High School graduate made it to the roof of the world Sunday.
Capt. Andrew "Drew" Ackles, 30, a 2001 graduate of Ashland High School, was one of the USAF 7 Summits team members who reached the top of 29,035-foot Mount Everest, according to Capt. Bryan Bouchard, a national Air Force spokesman based in New York City.
The success marks the first time a team of military members from any nation has climbed the seven summits — the tallest peaks on all seven continents, said Bouchard, a 1995 graduate of North Medford High School.
Formed in 2005, the all-volunteer team, climbing on its own time and paying its own way, took on the challenge of climbing the seven summits to honor fellow servicemen and women who have died in war.
They also raised money and awareness for the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, a charity that benefits the families of fallen special-operations troops. Thus far, the team has raised more than $60,000 for military charities.
The effort was launched after Air Force Academy graduate Capt. Derek Argel was killed with several other airmen when a plane went down in Iraq on Memorial Day in 2005. Argel was among a group of classmates who frequently went rock climbing while attending the academy in Colorado Springs.
In addition to scaling Mount Everest, the team climbed to the top of Mount Elbrus in Russia, Mount Aconcagua in Argentina, Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Mount Denali in Alaska, Mount Vinson in Antarctica and Mount Kosciuszko in Australia.
Ackles is a helicopter instructor pilot stationed at Fort Rucker, Ala. Other team members included Maj. Rob Marshall, 34, of Mercer Island, Wash.; Capt. Marshall Klitzke, 30, of Lemmon, S.D.; Capt. Colin Merrin, 28, of Santee, Calif.; Capt. Kyle Martin, 29, of Manhattan, Kan.; and Staff Sgt. Nick Gibson, 36, of Gulf Breeze, Fla.
Two team members, Merrin and Gibson, were forced to turn back before the summit because of illness and concerns over frostbite, said Bouchard, noting that safety was a primary concern throughout the mission.
"Fifty years after the first American boots stood on top of the world, the first American military team has followed in those footsteps," said retired Col. Rob Suminsby, head of the team's support network, in a prepared statement. "The team unfurled the Stars and Stripes and the U.S. Air Force flag on the summit right after 5 a.m. in Nepal."
He was referring to the climb by Seattle resident James W. Whittaker who summited on May 1, 1963, becoming the first American atop Everest.
This year also marks the 60th anniversary of the first human ascent and descent of Everest, with Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay reaching the top on May 29, 1953.
Reach Mail Tribune reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or firstname.lastname@example.org.