Soldiers, Airmen enjoy outdoors

Park ranger Paul Zaenger tells Soldiers and Airmen from the Front Range community about the history of Black Canyon during a joint single Soldiers and Airmen camping trip to the Gunnison National Park Feb. 19.

Story and photos by Pfc. Andrew Ingram

4th Infantry Division Public Affairs Office

Twenty Soldiers and Airmen wrapped in thick layers and wool hats looked disbelievingly at their campsite.

“This is where we are staying?” asked Army Pfc. KeAndra Wright, with a note of shock in her voice. “I can’t even see the ground.”

Snow, at least 2-feet deep, covered the ground and the picnic table. After a few more stunned moments, one Soldier gave a war cry and dove into the snow, quickly followed by many of the campers.

The Colorado National Parks Services and Colorado Wilderness Rides and Guides sponsored the camping trip to Black Canyon in the Gunnison National Park with the Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers and Single Airmen Initiative.

The guides and rangers held the event to give back to servicemembers and encourage Colorado’s military community to become more involved in the outdoor activities offered in the Centennial State, said Jeff Wolin, park ranger.

“The national parks service cares for 397 of America’s most special places,” Wolin said. “These are places that belong to all Americans. When these Soldiers and Airmen are out defending our nation, they are defending democracy; they are defending freedom and they are defending our ideals. National parks embody those ideals.”

The military and national parks service share a bond dating back to 1872, when the cavalry guarded and tended Yellowstone, the world’s first national park, said Wolin.

“We wanted to make sure that these Soldiers are enjoying their public lands,” he said. “We want to make sure that they realize these places are part of what they are defending.”

After a few minutes of horseplay, the military men and women cleared paths through the snow and set up tents to guard against the winter wind that would whip through their camp later that night.

Once the camp was complete, the rangers and wilderness guides led the troops to a trail, where the Soldiers and Airmen spent the remainder of the daylight hours learning cross-country skiing.

While skiing proved a difficult challenge for many of the campers, the experience pushed them to find enjoyment in things they probably would not have expected, said Wright, a financial management technician assigned to Company A, 230th Finance Battalion, 43rd Sustainment Brigade.

“I’m from Texas, so I had never seen snow before coming to Colorado,” Wright said. “It’s cold, but since I’m in Colorado, I figured I should probably try a new experience and see if I like it.”

Darkness fell before the servicemembers completed the cross country course, and headlamps illuminated the snow as the group slid back to its starting line and removed skis.

Back at camp, the Soldiers and Airmen warmed themselves with bowls of hot soup and pasta before heading out to view the stars with local astronomers.

The next morning, the servicemembers ate breakfast and broke camp before taking a snowshoe hike around Black Canyon.

“Snowshoeing was a lot of fun,” said Air Force Staff Sgt. Cederic Hill, space operator, 16th Space Control Squadron, 21st Operations Group, 21st Space Wing. “The view was amazing and the guides told us a lot about the wildlife in this area.”

Hill said he hopes his positive experience during the trip would encourage more Airmen to become physically active during their time off.

“Seeing Black Canyon was my favorite part of the trip,” said Wright. “Where I come from is very flat, so to see something like that is almost indescribable.

“I definitely want to see more Soldiers come out here. I know I’m going to come back this summer and check it all out again when it’s warm,” she said.

The trip concluded with a few hours of ice fishing at Curecanti National Recreation Area, before the long ride back to Colorado Springs.

After two days of new experiences in the Colorado wild, Pfc. Ly Vang, infantryman, Company B, 1st Battalion, 68th Armor Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, said more servicemembers should travel and need to take advantage of the many opportunities life in the military affords them.

“I’ve been to a lot of places like this, but I have never camped in the snow,” said Vang. “It was cold, wool socks and a warm sleeping bag are a must, but I would most definitely encourage other Soldiers to come out here and try it.”

Single Soldiers interested in participating in BOSS events should contact their company or battalion BOSS representatives, the Fort Carson BOSS Office at 524-2677 or attend one of the program’s bimonthly meetings held at the Foxhole at 10 a.m., the first and third Wednesday of each month.

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