Setting lofty goals: climbing Mount Kilimanjaro



VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- In early 2014, Capt. Matthew Sarda, 381st Training Support Squadron flight commander, set a goal to travel to Africa and climb Mount Kilimanjaro.

With the support of his unit leadership and base personnel, he and a friend completed that goal Feb. 7, 2015, after intensive preparation leading up to the actual six-day ascent.

"It was something that I had planned with friends for about a year," said Sarda. "Mount Kilimanjaro is a mountain that doesn't require a high proficiency level in terms of mountaineering. With the majority of routes you don't have to use repelling gear or crampons. At a steady ascent rate, you won't need supplemental oxygen. You can't ascend Mount Kilimanjaro without a nationally certified guide, so it's more of a guided hike. Kilimanjaro is the highest mountain in Africa, and that's pretty remarkable, but it wasn't like climbing Mount Everest. It's difficult, but not impossible."

For Sarda, the trip to Africa was the culmination of months of hard work and training to get medically approved and demonstrate to his supervisors that he had done his research.

"My leadership was more than willing to give me time off for this venture," said Sarda. "I went through the appropriate channels; I talked with the office of special investigations, obtained all my shots necessary for travel in that part of Africa, and filled out a high-risk activities form."

Since Sarda has a commendable work ethic and has demonstrated multiple times that he can plan and execute a mission, his leadership was more than happy to support his endeavors.

"He has done a ton of great work here in the 381st," said Lt. Col. Thomas Nugent, 381st TRSS operations officer. "We are very comfortable with his ability to plan and execute something this complicated. No matter what he faces in the future, he climbed Mount Kilimanjaro - everything else is going to be that much easier."

Upon reaching Uhuru Peak at 19,341 feet above sea level, Sarda demonstrated unit esprit de corps by posing for a summit photo with his unit flag.

"Bringing the TRSS flag across Africa to the summit of Kilimanjaro was the least I could do," said Sarda. "It was a once in a lifetime opportunity they gave me that they didn't have to, and I am extremely grateful for that."

Accomplishing personal goals in the Air Force can be challenging due to work schedules, leave conflicts, safety concerns or any other number of factors that play into being an Airman and accomplishing the mission. Regardless of these challenges, the 381st TRSS strongly encourages its Airmen not to be discouraged even if the first answer is 'no'. 

"We always encourage our Airmen to ask," said Nugent. "The answer is always 'no' until you ask the question. As long as you have a good plan, and you know how you are going to execute that plan, then why not work toward it? If we can support their goals and still accomplish the mission then of course we will."

Living out the 'whole person' concept isn't an Air Force only idea, it is vital for personal development.

"Setting personal goals for oneself within, or outside of, the Air Force is essential toward a balanced life," said Lt. Col. Brian Wilkerson, 381st TRSS commander. "Share goals with your supervisor and discuss your plan for successful achievement. This will help yield a productive conversation for goal support and work toward improving goal viability for Airmen."