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Face of Defense: Navy Officer Scales Africa’s Tallest Mountain

By Dan Bender
Special to American Forces Press Service

COLUMBUS, Ohio, Feb. 23, 2009 – As a member of the Navy Supply Corps who works for the Defense Logistics Agency, Navy Capt. Jim Patton is especially attuned to the importance of logistical support for missions.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Navy Capt. Jim Patton, director of maritime customer operations at the Defense Supply Center Columbus, Ohio, stands at the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania during a January 2009 trip to the highest mountain in Africa. Photo courtesy of Navy Capt. Jim Patton

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

So when he and his wife, Laurie, recently trekked up the side of Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa, one thing that impressed him, besides the spectacular views, was the logistical prowess of the guides who accompanied their tour group up the mountain.

“The guides were masters at logistics and moving a large crowd up and down the mountain and feeding all of us,” he said. “They prepared three-course meals for about 15 of us in the group on a gas tank with a single flame, and they had to carry everything on their backs.

“It was phenomenal what those guys could do,” added Patton, who is director of maritime customer operations at the Defense Supply Center here. “I was very impressed with the logistical support on the trip.”

The Pattons and a friend from San Diego traveled to Tanzania on Jan. 10 and joined a tour group for two weeks in climbing to the 19,340-foot summit of Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa. The group traveled the Marangu trail, one of several routes up the mountain that require no technical skills in the art of mountain climbing.

Patton, whose only other visits to Africa have been a few brief port calls, described hiking up Kilimanjaro as “a once-in-a-lifetime experience” that left him with “all kinds of memories.”

The final push to the summit was the most taxing part of the hike; the group left at midnight to be at the summit for sunrise, he said.

"The night sky from that altitude is a phenomenal view,” he said. “Watching the clouds dart about the mountain peaks in the moonlight was unbelievably beautiful.”

The biggest challenge was getting accustomed to the altitude, since the air pressure at the top of Kilimanjaro is roughly half that at sea level.

“The guides were trained to watch for altitude sickness, and they had our group take its time, which enabled us to not only get used to working in the thinner air but also enjoy the spectacular scenery along the way,” Patton said.

The trek up and down the mountain took six days, Patton said, and the group’s route took them along well-maintained pathways through rain forest, moorland, alpine desert and, ultimately, the summit at Uhuru Peak.

“It’s just gorgeous up there,” Patton said. “There are pockets of the glacier all around, and the ice was blue-green in color when the sunlight came through it. “Plus, at night, you could see how deep and beautiful the Milky Way galaxy is when you’re away from everything. I could see many of the constellations very clearly.”

(Dan Bender works in the public affairs office for the Defense Logistics Agency’s supply center in Columbus, Ohio.)

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Defense Supply Center Columbus
Defense Logistics Agency

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