190: Benjamin Breckheimer: Former Staff Sargent who was blown up by an IED, then overcame his injury plus divorce and suicidal thoughts to regain his drive by becoming the 1st Purple Heart recipient to climb the Seven Summits.

February 12, 2021

Benjamin Breckheimer

Did Benjamin Breckheimer always want to be in the military? “When Desert Storm was unfolding, I wasn’t even 7-years-old. I just remember watching all of the news footage and I was just amazed by the nighttime footage of the raid, and I was like, if there is ever a war I want to be a part of it. Unfortunately, tragic events of September 11th, 2001 happened and I graduated from high school in June of 2002 and right out of high school I decided to join the military. I didn’t exactly know what I was going to do in the military.”

On this episode of Finding Your Summit Podcast, we talk with Benjamin Breckheimer why he felt compelled to join the military. “My dream as a kid for an occupation was to be a surgeon. But I didn’t want to go to eight years of college after just getting out of 12 years of school that I didn’t really want to do. I scored pretty well on the ASVAB. It is the military test, the aptitude test basically. It gives you certain engineering or medical, science sort of things. I don’t remember what my score was. But I remember the recruiter saying, just let me know what you want to do. You can pretty much do anything. My exact words out of my mouth were, ‘I want to be as close to the surgeon as I can without having to go to college,’ and operating specialist is what they came up with.”

What You Will Learn:

What did being on reserves consist of for Benjamin? “As a reservist, you do the first weekend of every month. You do drill weekends, which are your training weekends. Then two weeks out of the summer you go do training in a military installation. I was in Wisconsin. So, we would go to Fort McCoy for two weeks and just do training for those two weeks. The unit I waa with, they actually deployed to Afghanistan prior to me arriving at that unit, and they weren’t slotted to go back overseas for another two or three years. I just never got that opportunity while I was with them. So, I just asked my Company Commander if he would let me go active duty, and he signed the paperwork.”

Benjamin Breckheimer discusses getting deployed to Baddad. “In September of 2005, I got exactly what I was hoping for. I got to deploy to Bagdad, Iraq for a year, and as an operating room specialist the civilian world would be a surgical tech. So, you assist a surgeon in surgeries, hand him the tools, retrack, anything they really needed. It was the first time I ever saw an individual pass on my operating room table. You know, this thought came through my head that it wasn’t fair that this kid, and I say kid lightly because we were all young at that age, I would like to believe, was dieing for me. He was out fighting for me and I was safe in the green zone. I wasn’t out on the front lines or anything like that, and it just didn’t seem fair that he was giving his life while  I was safe.”

What was it like for Benjamin Breckheimer after a year in Bagdad? “I wanted to do more, I would like to believe. I just felt like I wasn;t doing enough. I didn’t feel like I was doing my part, so to say. Once I got back from Iraq I pretty much had my mind set on changing my job in the military and I ended up reclassifying as a Calvary Scout. That is completely in the opposite end of being in the medical field. A Calvary Scout, you do reconacense, surveillance. You make targets for overhead bombings. So, you are on the frontlines doing this stuff. The saying that the grassing isn’t always greener on the other side is true. It was a tough job.”

What is the difference between when he went from Afghanistan to Iraq? “When we landed in Iraq, I really felt like there was an appreciation. It was a big city. Baghdad is a huge city. So, there is a lot of infrastructure around, and when we arrived in Candahar it felt like it was very desolate, just more of a desert. I’m not going to say wasteland, more desert than city infrastructure.”

How did Benjamin Breckheimer’s injury take place? “A stryker vehicle is basically an eight-wheeled tank. There are four wheels on each side. It could hold up to 10 individuals in this vehicle, aside from the driver. We were actually out on a mission early in the morning on September 13th to go pay for damages that were done to an irrigation system that a farmer had. I was the very last vehicle in a four-vehicle convoy. Just following the tracks of the vehicle in front of me. I was either too far left or too far right from those tracks and it was lights out. It felt like I hit a brick wall literally. It was crazy because you don’t see it coming. It just happened. I like the fact that I am able to remember everything . But I think more so because I was the only individual to get wounded. In all, I had a concussion. My right eardrum was blown, a couple vertebrae fracture, mild TBI, minor pelvic fracture. Both of my femurs were fractured, and my right leg was literally hanging by a strip of skin.”

When You Get Knocked Down, You Keep Going

How many surgeries did he have between flown back to the states and the surgery that he had in Afghanistan? “I got rushed into the emergency room and that was the first time I felt really terrified. I went from working on the side of the operating table to end up being on it. It was very scary for me. It really brought me back to how the individuals in Iraq felt when we were rolling them into the ER. From the point of impact, I had surgery done on both of my femurs and my lower right leg, which they put external fixators on, which is, they basically pin in your bone and then they have a carbon rod to stabilize your bone and I had that surgery done right away.”

Finding His Summit in Mountaineering

During this episode of Finding Your Summit Podcast, Benjamin Breckheimer talks about how he got into mountaineering, “I was really stepping out of my comfort zone, which I think a lot of people in those dark situations might need to do. But the mountaineering, like you said, it took me a while before I realised that I was climbing for other reasons. I will start by saying this, the very first mountain I submitted was Mount Elbrus in Russia.”

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