2018 USX Denali Expedition: Through the Fog (Part II)

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Editor’s Note: The mission of the USX 2018 Denali Expedition is to gather research data to assist the science and medical communities in understanding how the human body’s sympathetic and parasympathetic systems change with acclimatization. This data will be harvested using Cardiac Insight’s wearable electrocardiogram (ECG) devices during a summit expedition of Denali, North America’s highest peak, by USX’s team of military members and veterans from May 14-June 5, 2018. Our expedition team includes Scott Schissel, a retired U.S. Army Master Sergeant from Puyallup, Washington. Here’s his story:

I’m often asked why I joined the Army, and then why as a Military Policeman. I couldn’t begin to hazard a guess until further down the line in my 24-year career.

Ten years in and serving as a Drill Sergeant, I realized the true reason. I’m a helper, someone who gives a crap about others and is willing to give up my time to make sure they succeed.

Having been bullied as a kid, I saw this same fear in trainees’ eyes as they faced some of the most difficult times in their lives. They were confronted with being away from home for the first time, facing daunting tasks and more physical training then they had ever performed. Their mounting stress was evident. By no means was I a pushover Drill Sergeant, but I had learned early on in my Army career that you can be tough as nails and still give a shit about the people surrounding you day in and day out. As a leader and mentor, this helped me strike a balance between being hard and fair.

The bullying I experienced at such a young age taught me the importance of compassion and empathy for others. Since I endured this and was able to recover, my ability to recognize and react to others’ mental and emotional states served me well as a Drill Sergeant. I carried this empathy throughout my military service and, today, into my role as a Park Ranger.

I’m sure I carry a few emotional scars from being bullied time and time again. Not so much that stops me in my tracks, but enough to remind me that everyone is not the same, as strong or weak as you think.

Post-service, I often think back to the way I handled combat and those I encounter who are returning from the same situation: the before, during, and after. I don’t have nightmares or strong reactions to sights, smells, and sounds. I’m glad that I developed compassion and empathy through being bullied. I’ve tried my utmost to use this to help others in need and, dependent on the circumstances, with a soft or heavy hand.

Many service members suffer from mental and emotional ailments beyond PTSD. Some of these challenges are known, others aren’t. Some recognize what they’re going through and seek help, but more often than not, they don’t. There’s a chasm between what is happening and what we choose to accept is going on. I don't think most have turned their backs on people suffering from mental and emotional illness. Many seem to choose, sadly, to ignore it.

USX’s upcoming research expedition to summit Denali, Alaska, will be an extremely stressful event for all of our team members who are involved. There are a lot of knowns but also many unknowns. Our focus on weather and terrain will inform both our preparation and the actual climb, and yet, self-confidence and doubt will coincide every step of the way. The expedition will be tough and we’ll be cold, tired, and hungry. In our attempt to summit its peak, we’ll each pay a physical and mental toll.  This summit is not guaranteed. At times, we won’t be able to see where we’re going. But we’ll trust in ourselves, each other, and we’ll move forward together: through the snow, through the wind, and through the fog.