By Senior Airman Stephanie Serrano
19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
Beginning in 2005, a group of Air Force members set out to hike to the top of the highest peaks on all seven continents and display the Air Force flag. After conquering the Seven Summit challenge in May of 2013, members created the 50 Summit challenge. Airmen, along with family and friends, are invited to hike to the highest point in each of our 50 states, carrying the Air Force flag and proudly flying it at the top. The challenge was designed for Airmen to have fun, expand personal boundaries and get outdoors.
After hearing about the challenge during a safety conference, Senior Master Sgt. Michael Francis, 188th Wing ground safety noncommissioned officer in charge, approached Chief Master Sgt. Ronald Redding, 188th Civil Engineer Squadron installation emergency manager, with the idea of hosting the Arkansas High Point Mount Magazine 50 Summit Challenge.
The two decided to take on the project and became team leads, organizing the May 8, 2015 event. The event was open to all Air Force members, families and friends.
The morning of the hike started out a bit gloomy with scattered thunderstorms forecasted throughout the day. However, the weather didn’t deter the approximate 75 Air Force members and families who met at Cove Lake in Paris, Arkansas to hike the 10.5 miles to the top of Mount Magazine.
“I think the turnout was remarkable considering the severe weather threat,” said Redding.
After a quick safety briefing, a short message from the chaplain and the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, members divided into teams to begin their strenuous hike to the top.
The hike definitely had many challenges along the way, apart from being so long. Airman crossed streams, climbed steep hills, and hiked a good couple of miles in the rain.
Due to the conditions of the hike, there were two opt-out points along the way. At mile three and mile seven, Airman were able to get water from the volunteers as well as if needed, obtain a ride to the rally point.
The trek went on for more than four hours.
“Seeing how everyone was enthusiastic and being great wingmen helping and encouraging each other was great,” said Redding.
Slowly as all the Airmen made it to the rally point, the group gathered once more to make its final trek to the peak as a team.
Once at the top, the group gathered around the Mount Magazine “Highest Peak of Arkansas” sign, posed for a group photo with the Air Force, P.O.W/M.I.A, American, Sheep Dog and Arkansas Flags, and sang the Air Force song.
“Hiking the highest peak in Arkansas with fellow Airmen and their families on a less than perfect day; muddy trails, swift creeks and rain was awesome. There was a great sense of accomplishment when we made it to the top of the mountain with our entire team,” said Master Sgt. Greg Qualls, 188th Mission Support Group command support staff secretary.
After completing the hike, volunteers drove the Airmen back down the mountain for a much-earned free lunch.
“It was a total success in my eyes,” said Redding. “The Arkansas High Point Challenge has set the bar very high for the other states to follow. We are looking at future possible events and hoping to make it more challenging and open it up to the other military branches and first responder agencies.”