DENALI, AK, UNITED STATES
Story by John Budnik
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Alaska District
While visibly humble, Austria explained his personal encounters with suicide. Both his best friend and a fellow Soldier with the 82nd Airborne Division committed suicide.JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON – Blistering snowstorms, excruciating work hauling gear and possible death might not sound like an ideal summer vacation for most. If you are a mountaineer, then the experience is a paradise.
Courtesy Photo | Capt. Stephen Austria, project engineer in the USACE-Alaska District’s Foreign Military Sales Program, and fiancé and climbing partner, Rebecca Melesciuc, take a break from descending Denali, the tallest peak in North America, for a photo. Austria and Melesciuc climbed Denali this past summer to help raise Soldier suicide awareness.For Capt. Stephen Austria, project engineer in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers – Alaska District’s Foreign Military Sales Program, a mid-June, non-guided expedition climbing Denali, formerly known as Mount McKinley, was a dream come true for him and girlfriend, Rebecca Melesciuc, and one he hopes brings awareness to Soldier suicide.
“Denali is the highest mountain in North America,” Austria said of the 20,310-feet peak. “Not many people want to do things like that. It is cool to say I have climbed it.”
While visibly humble, Austria explained his personal encounters with suicide. Both his best friend and a fellow Soldier with the 82nd Airborne Division committed suicide. He also knew several others in a previous unit who took their own lives. To honor those Soldiers, he carried an American flag on the majestic mountain that was with him on every mission while deployed to Iraq.
“It is a bigger issue than what some people make it out to be,” he said. “I climbed for veterans in general, too. It is a unique family that we are a part of.”
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