March 10, 2016 09:00 ET

USX Expedition Aims to Summit First Wounded Veteran and Active Duty Soldiers on Mount Everest While Raising Awareness for Soldier Mental Health

CUMMING, GA--(Marketwired - Mar 10, 2016) - In the past five years, more U.S. soldiers have died from suicide than enemy attacks in both Iraq and Afghanistan. It's a jarring statistic that the newly formed, veteran U.S. Expeditions and Explorations nonprofit, USX, seeks to reverse by leading an expedition to the top of Mount Everest, this spring. Their mission is to shed light on the stigma that centers on soldier post-traumatic stress disorder, while guiding veterans in their transition back to civilian life through challenging expeditions that inspire camaraderie and purpose. 

"Some reports show that 20 percent of our veterans who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder," said 2nd Lieutenant and recent West Point graduate Harold Earls, who developed the idea of USX while still a cadet in the U.S. Military Academy. "We wanted to do more than bring awareness to PTSD, we wanted to do something about it by creating expeditions that mirror being part of a mission-oriented unit and team in combat. Mount Everest is just the beginning."

If the USX team is successful, it will be the first time an active duty male and female soldier, and combat wounded military veteran summit Mount Everest. The climbing team will begin their ascent April 7, and is comprised of Earls, an active-duty infantry basic officer assigned to the 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Stewart, Georgia; 1st Lieutenant Elyse Ping Medvigy, an active-duty field artillery officer currently assigned to the 4th Infantry Division at Fort Carson, Colorado, also credited with serving as the first female FSO (fire support officer) in the Army to deploy with a light infantry unit; and retired Staff Sergeant Chad Jukes, who lost his right leg while serving as the lead gun truck commander on a supply convoy in northern Iraq. Both Medvigy and Jukes have extensive mountaineering experience on major summits from around the world. Earls just recently started climbing when the team began training for the USX Veteran Everest Expedition at Mount Rainier last fall. 

Ground team support for the expedition includes highly decorated and Purple Heart recipient Command Sergeant Major Todd Burnett, co-founder of USX and military-liaison and mentor to the team; 1st Lieutenant Connor Love, USX CFO and active-duty cavalry officer stationed at Fort Benning, Georgia; and Captain Matt Hickey, an active-duty infantry platoon leader who has served in multiple deployments in Afghanistan. Hickey led the USX climbing team in their training expedition at Mount Rainier.

"Iraq was an extremely hostile and stressful environment and many of us were affected by PTSD as a result," said Jukes. "This Everest climbing expedition not only gives me a renewed purpose and mission but it allows me to overcome a stigma that many veterans battle. I want to show people that yes, I have one leg; yes, I have a brain injury; yes, I have post-traumatic stress syndrome; but no, I'm not weak and I'm stronger than you think. I can climb this mountain and I can conquer this syndrome too."

PTSD is a mental health condition triggered by terrifying events with symptoms lasting months or even years later that interfere with quality of life, and can increase suicide risk if not addressed. Currently, out of just the 22 states in America reporting veteran suicides, more than 22 veterans and one active duty soldier commit suicide each day, making suicide rates for veterans double and sometimes triple of the rate of civilian suicides. Many PTSD related suicides are not reported.

"When soldiers bond together we can conquer anything whether it be Mount Everest, PTSD or even suicide," said Burnett who holds a horrific record of surviving the most improvised explosive device attacks in the Army (more than 30). "Although I'm not an expert in PTSD, I'm a survivor who has struggled with regular thoughts of suicide. Key to my rehabilitation from this mental illness was having the support and love of friends and family in addition to an outlet to reduce my stress and anxiety through organized Army sports. This gave me a mission and sense camaraderie that I was deeply missing and that's why I believe USX is going to play a valuable role in the rehabilitation of many other veterans suffering from PTSD." 

USX's inaugural mission to climb to the top of the tallest mountain in the world is ambitious and has already caught the attention of internationally acclaimed author, journalist and award-winning director and producer, Sebastian Junger who has many credits to his name including combat documentaries, "Restrepo" and "Korrengal," in addition to his New York Times best-selling book, "The Perfect Storm." Junger and his crew from GoldCrest Films will follow the USX team on their Veteran Everest Expedition to produce a documentary film about the expedition and the climbers' goals of raising awareness for soldier mental health. More than half of the net proceeds from the film will go directly to veterans and soldiers struggling with PTSD and contemplation of suicide. 

After successfully summiting at Mount Rainier, the USX team fully funded their upcoming Mount Everest climb with major funding from premier sponsors Chevrolet and GovX (a members-only online destination for military and first responders). The team's gear is sponsored by Marmot and Expedia is the official travel sponsor for the expedition. Other partners include Coast Products, Southern Ground, DuPont, U.S. Legacy and Oakley.

USX team plans to summit the 29,029-foot Mount Everest peak around Memorial Day (May 30). To learn more and donate go to: All donations go directly to the USX Veteran Everest Expedition to raise awareness for soldier mental health and towards counseling care and services provided by Give an Hour and Stop Soldier Suicide

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