US Veterans Climb Mount Everest to Raise Awareness of Military Suicides

One of the climbers wears a prosthetic after losing his leg in Iraq in 2006.

ByJulia Jacobo
May 18, 2016, 4:13 PM

— -- Climbing Mount Everest is one of the hardest feats in the world — even for someone in tip-top physical shape. But a group of U.S. veterans who served in Afghanistan and Iraq, including one with a prosthetic leg, is working toward reaching the summit, 29,035 feet above sea level, to raise awareness of suicide rates among veteran and active-duty service members.

One of the most inspirational figures of the climb is retired Staff Sgt. Chad Jukes, who lost his right leg in Iraq in December 2006 when an improvised explosive device (IED) struck his vehicle. If successful, Jukes will be the first combat-wounded veteran to summit Everest.

PHOTO:  If he is successful, retired staff sergeant Chad Jukes, who is climbing with a prosthetic leg, will be the first combat wounded veteran to summit Mount Everest.
If he is successful, retired staff sergeant Chad Jukes, who is climbing with a prosthetic leg, will be the first combat wounded veteran to summit Mount Everest.
Dave Ohlson

After losing his leg, Jukes, an avid climber, didn't stopped climbing. He is making the trek up Everest with a prosthetic, which he said required extensive preparation. He was worried about how his body would handle sleeping at the high altitude and in the frigid conditions, but he is doing "fairly well" and is mostly sleeping through the night, he said.

The USX Veteran Everest Expedition's climb is being led by Lt. Harold Earls, a 23-year-old active-duty soldier assigned to the 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Stewart in Georgia. The team has reached the advanced base camp and plans to leave tonight for the first of four camps on mountain.

PHOTO: Mount Everest is pictured before the USX Veteran Everest Expedition is set to climb.
Mount Everest is pictured before the USX Veteran Everest Expedition is set to climb.
Dave Ohlson
PHOTO: Members of the USX Veteran Everest Expedition hold up a banner at the base camp of Mount Everest.
Members of the USX Veteran Everest Expedition hold up a banner at the base camp of Mount Everest.
Dave Ohlson

The weather there has taken a turn for the worse since the team arrived, with members saying the snowy conditions are "not good at all for climbing." But weather permitting, the team should be able to reach the summit by May 23.

Every day, more than 22 veterans and one active-duty service member commit suicide, the USX Veteran Everest Expedition said. The group hopes the difficult climb will draw attention to the epidemic of military suicides.

ABC News' Jon Williams contributed to this report.

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