Aaron “Ike” Isaacson, an Eagle Scout, is one of 11 injured soldiers taking part in Soldiers to the Summit, an expedition to climb Lobuche East, a 20,075 foot peak at the foot of Everest.
We caught up with Isaacson by phone last week while he waited at the airport to begin more than 24 hours of flying to get to Nepal.
Nepal is a long way from the small town in southwest Kansas where he grew up and where Scouting helped form this man’s love for adventure. Living on a farm, he would’ve had few opportunities to explore the outdoors without the Boy Scouts, he said.
Isaacson’s troop took trips to Colorado to climb mountains and experience camping. He earned his Eagle Scout Award in 1993 and then graduated college in 1999.
He was planning to use his degree in business administration when the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, happened, compelling him to join the U.S. Army.
Isaacson quickly became an officer in the Army and served in Iraq from 2004 to 2006. It was there that he suffered the first of two serious injuries. In 2005, he was walking next to a vehicle when a land mine exploded, causing serious head and neck injuries.
The most lasting damage, though, was to his hearing. Isaacson will have to wear hearing aids in both ears for the rest of his life.
Because of his injuries, Isaacson was to be honorably discharged from the Army. After what happened, nobody would have faulted him for taking the Army up on its offer, but he told the Medical Review Board that wasn’t done serving the country.
“I felt I have more to give,” he said. “In the middle of the board, I said I want to go back to Iraq. They said if I had another blast like that, that I’d be completely deaf.”
He promised them he would wear extra hearing protection and was deployed to Iraq and then later to Afghanistan. In 2008, near the end of his third deployment, Isaacson was injured again.
“During some of our final operations, I needed to identify whether someone had a weapon in his hands, and I ended up falling off of a cliff,” he said.
He broke his right leg and spent months in the hospital recovering.
Back in the U.S., he spent most of 2009 rehabilitating and regaining strength in his leg. He received two Bronze Star Medals, a Purple Heart, an Army Commendation Medal, and many other awards for his service.
Once he was fully recovered, he said he “needed a different challenge,” something significant to work toward.
Soldiers to the Summit gave him that opportunity, helping fund the costly trip to Nepal.
“A goal of mine when I was in Boy Scouts was to do an expedition in Nepal, but it’s so expensive,” he said.
It’s a dream come true for Isaacson, but he doesn’t want the expedition to be all about him.
“As people read this, they should take the time to remember that there are guys over there fighting right now,” he said. “The moment that you see anything about the climb, I want people to remember [the active-duty soldiers].”
And how can Scout packs, troops, and crews honor our soldiers?
“When a unit returns home, within the first few days there’s a welcome home ceremony,” he said. “Scouts could find a local unit and show up for the welcome home ceremony. That would be great.”
Photos of Aaron Isaacson were taken by Adam Livingston.