YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, Calif. – Yosemite National Park in California, which features waterfalls, redwood trees and numerous trails, served as the back drop July 13 for a resiliency hike for 42 Airmen from Travis Air Force Base.
The hike to Cloud’s Rest, which is 9,926 feet above sea level, required Airmen to navigate through arduous terrain, battle mosquitoes and tax their bodies for nearly 15 miles. The concept for the adventure came from Capt. Kevin Hostettler, 60th Air Mobility Wing chaplain.
“The Air Force wants resilient Airmen and resiliency is the ability to bounce back from something or push through something that is difficult,” Hostettler said. “This hike was an opportunity for our Airmen to experience something incredibly challenging physically, mentally and spiritually. We wanted to find a way to better prepare them for life’s difficult moments when they will need to push through.”
Hostettler said the 14.57-mile route the Airmen travelled, which featured 1,775 feet of elevation gain highlighted by a series of switchbacks, was designed to be as taxing as possible.
“We wanted to develop a hike that would test their physical fitness, stamina and mental fitness at high altitude,” he said. “That is incredibly difficult, and at some point, all of them will face challenges. So, why not do something in a controlled environment where they can enhance their resiliency? This will help them perform at a high level to accomplish the mission and be the best they can be for themselves and their families.”
Airmen from 21 different organizations tackled the journey in pairs and supported each other along the way. On numerous occasions, they shared water, food and words of encouragement.
“We brought 42 Airmen so they can support one another and connect while doing something challenging,” said Senior Airman Raymond Ruffin, 660th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron KC-10 Extender communication and navigation maintainer. Also one of the hike’s planners.
“In the Air Force, we are each other’s wingman,” he said. “We look out for one another and this hike was a great example of that. Some people may have been intimidated by the distance we were going to cover or how high we climbed, but when they look back on this experience, they will know they accomplished something they can use as motivation in their jobs, relationships or in their spiritual walk.”
Senior Airman Lanisa Haynes, 60th Aerospace Medical Squadron medical technician, made the journey to Cloud’s Rest and said she’s glad she did.
“There were points I wanted to stop, it was tough,” she said. “But that view at the end was so beautiful. Before doing this hike, I never hiked more than five miles.”
From the summit of Cloud’s Rest, many of the landmarks that make Yosemite a popular destination can be seen including El Capitan, Half Dome and Tenaya Lake.
While she enjoyed taking in her surroundings from nearly 10,000 feet up, Haynes said, she gained more from the hike than a nice view.
“There are times when you feel your body is about to give out, but in those moments, it’s your mind that will push you through,” she said. “You have to have the end state in mind and focus on that. I believed I could complete this hike and I did so by taking one step and then the next step.”
Positive thinking, along with a strong support system, is vital to overcoming adversity, Haynes said.
“My grandmother died in November 2018 and we were really close,” she said. “I also lost a childhood friend in February. She was killed in a car accident. That was a really sad time for me. For a while, I was scared to drive.”
“I discussed everything I was going through with my family and friends,” Haynes said. “I also had incredible support groups within my unit. Their support helped me focus on serving my brothers and sisters in arms and accomplishing my goals.”
The Houston native is training to run her first half-marathon in 2020 and hopes to earn a commission in the Air Force as a social worker. She also wants to rid the Air Force of suicide.
“I got through this hike, loss and so many other challenges in life,” she said. “I’m going to tackle every goal I have one step at a time.”
Showing every Airman that he or she has the physical, mental and spiritual resiliency to overcome nearly any obstacle was essential when planning the hike, Ruffin said.
“All things are possible once you set your mind to it,” he said. “We want every Airman to understand that they can do anything and when they face challenges, they don’t have to face them alone. There’s so much support out there for you no matter what situation you’re dealing with.”
The Airmen tackled Cloud’s Rest in small groups with the first group starting their journey at 7:30 a.m. They were followed by three more groups just 30 minutes apart from each other. The grueling hike took each group between eight and 10 hours to complete, with the last group finishing around 8 p.m.
“The hike was tougher than I thought it was going to be because of the elevation,” said Senior Airman Adam Taylor, 60th Contracting Squadron contracting specialist. “I wanted to spend more time at the summit. It’s one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences.”
Taylor said, after hiking to Cloud’s Rest, his resilience and the resilience of his fellow Airmen are much stronger.
“After completing this hike, I believe all of us can better push through whatever challenges we may face.”