By Kerry McGinley
Seth Whitfield has made a career out of braving extreme conditions for the greater good. He served in the Army’s 1st Ranger Battalion from 2001 to 2004. For his service, he was awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart. Since 2008, he’s worked for PAE throughout Africa training peacekeepers.
“I love it,” said the deputy program manager for PAE’s Global Peace Operations. “It’s allowed me to continue to serve with a team I respect and admire as we do important work.”
And in his free time, he’s climbing a 20,310-foot mountain to raise money and awareness for Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors. He’s using his upcoming vacation and the weeks leading up to it as a fundraiser for TAPS. With Tony Lutes, a close friend who grew up in an Air Force family, Whitfield is climbing Denali, the highest peak in North America.
On May 5, Whitfield and Lutes are embarking on an unguided trek that requires each to pack in 120 pounds of supplies – skis, climbing gear, food, fuel, tents, and protective clothing to withstand winds up to 80 mph and ambient air temperatures to -40 F. There’s no cell service, but the pair will have a satellite phone for emergencies.
The prep for the three-week trek is similar to the effort he puts in on the job, he said.
“A lot of thought goes into it, a lot of risk analysis,” he said. “At the end of the day, I’ll tackle it like I would any other project.”
A sense of adventure and commitment to service are the foundation for both his career and this fundraiser. His grandfather and father served in the Air Force, and his older brother served in 3rd Ranger Battalion. Whitfield joined the Army in 2000.
“I had the opportunity to serve with some great people, doing a very important job, at a pivotal time in our country’s history and I’ll always grateful for that,” he said. “I feel honored that I was able serve and thankful my family never got the call they feared most.”
They almost did more times than they’ll ever know. Whitfield served multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2004, he was clearing a compound near Khost when a barricaded door erupted from grenades and small arms fire. He was knocked unconscious as he caught shrapnel in his face and arm and suffered a traumatic brain injury.
“Nearly half of my platoon was wounded during that three-week period,” he said.
His military career ended soon after that. He focused on his education, earning degrees that set him on a new professional path: peacekeeper. He said he appreciates the chance to continue service-focused work.
The work of TAPS is also critical, he said. Surviving family members can count on TAPS to keep them connected and supported with a range of tools and services. Hotlines, seminars, retreats, mentor programs and even expeditions similar to Whitfield’s Denali trek on are part of how TAPS serves those who have lost their service member.
TAPS understands what the families of service members already know: a loss due to suicide, a training accident or illness leaves the same sized hole as a combat death.
“Families are the foundation of our armed forces and companies that support the U.S. government,” he said.
Without spouses who often give up careers to follow their service member around the world, kids who give up friends and familiarity, parents who raise men and women willing to put their lives on the line, our military couldn’t function, Whitfield said.
“I deeply appreciate the work TAPS does, and I’m proud to work for a company that supports them,” he said.
PAE recently sponsored the children’s break room at the TAPS 25th anniversary gala in keeping with its commitment to support nonprofits the serves the defense and contracting community. For Whitfield’s campaign, the company will match funds up to $5,000.
“TAPS is humbled and thankful to Seth Whitfield and the entire PAE team for their support of our mission to provide compassionate care to all those grieving the loss of a military loved one,” said Bonnie Carroll, TAPS President and founder. “On behalf of our entire TAPS family, we wish Seth a successful and safe climb and thank him for his courageous act in support of our survivors.”
For more information and to support TAPS, visit Whitfield's fundraising page.