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Advocate for wounded warriors became a wounded warrior; Bauschke will climb Kilimanjaro to raise money for injured soldiers

Sgt. Tom Bauschke ... Friday Harbor soldier injured in Afghanistan will climb Kilimanjaro to raise awareness of, and money for, the Wounded Warrior Project. - From Tom Bauschke
Sgt. Tom Bauschke ... Friday Harbor soldier injured in Afghanistan will climb Kilimanjaro to raise awareness of, and money for, the Wounded Warrior Project.
— image credit: From Tom Bauschke's Facebook page, with permission

Tom Bauschke of San Juan Island was an Army veteran and local house painter when he became active in the Wounded Warrior Project.

In 2005 and 2006, he hiked the 96-mile Wonderland Trail around Mount Rainier to raise pledges for the WWP, which assists wounded men and women returning from Afghanistan and Iraq.

He never suspected that in three years he would become a wounded warrior too.

Bauschke was 41 and vice commander of the Friday Harbor American Legion post when, in 2007, he reenlisted in the Army as a medic – 19 years after his first enlistment ended.

After training at Fort Sill, Okla., he was assigned to 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 3rd BCT, 10th Mountain Division, at Fort Drum, N.Y.

His battalion was sent to Afghanistan.

About 8:10 p.m. on May 1, 2009, his unit came under surprise attack from Taliban fighters. “We were taking fire from three different positions,” Bauschke said. “Immediately, every gun was firing from our position.”

His platoon sergeant was “hit bad,” he said.

It was only after the attack was repelled that Bauschke saw that he had been hit by shrapnel. A small piece had penetrated his skin between his ribs but was removable by forceps. “We think it had ricocheted and lost energy because it didn't penetrate further,” he said.

Twenty-four days later, Sgt. Thomas G. Bauschke was presented with the Purple Heart. He considers himself lucky – “There but by the grace of God,” he said. And the experience made the Wounded Warrior experience more personal and real to him.

“It was different. Usually, I'm taking care of the guys, now they were taking care of me,” he said. “It also brought it home that (the Taliban fighters) are trying to kill us. Prior to that, we'd only received the occasional pop shot.”

Now stateside after his one-year deployment in Afghanistan, Bauschke is taking on a new challenge to raise money for the WWP and “foster greater awareness of the sacrifices service members make in serving our great nation during war.”

Next month, Bauschke will climb Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. On Feb. 11, he will climb 30 miles up nearby 14,967-foot Mount Meru to get used to altitude. Then, on Feb. 16, he will climb 38 miles to summit 19,340-foot Kilimanjaro. The climbs will total 68 miles -- 24,305 feet gained and 24,918 feet lost over 11 days.

“This is my third fund-raiser for the WWP,” Bauschke said. “I hiked the Wonderland Trail, 96 miles around Mount Rainier in Washington state, in 2005 and 2006, (and) raised more than $8,000. I gained pledges per mile from all walks of life in my hometown of Friday Harbor. For this third walk, I wish to step it up by seeking support from American Legion posts and concerned citizens across northwestern Washington, perhaps even across the United States.”

All proceeds from Bauschke’s climb will support the Wounded Warrior Project. He already owns his equipment and bought his plane ticket.

“It’s not a technical climb. You don't need crampons or ropes, but it's up to 19,340 feet, so you have to listen to your body,” he said.

Bauschke is used to physical challenges. He served in the Army Signal Corps in what was then West Germany from 1985-88. In 1995, he hiked the 2,100-mile Appalachian Trail. In 1997, he hiked the 2,700-mile Pacific Crest Trail. In 2000, he bicycled 4,800 miles coast-to-coast on the American Discovery Trail. In 2002, he canoed 1,500 miles down the Mississippi River. In 2005 and 2006, he hiked the Wonderland Trail.

Then, in 2007, he returned to Army boot camp at age 41.

He feels a sense of urgency to his WWP awareness and fund-raising effort.

“With the surge, more guys are going to get hurt,” Bauschke said. “By the end of next summer, our military hospitals will start seeing the guys.”

The Wounded Warrior Project brings much-needed clothing, toiletries and phone cards directly to wounded soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines in military hospitals across the U.S. and overseas. Most of these warriors have permanently debilitating injuries.

The WWP subsidizes necessities such as airfare, daycare, food, housing and ground transportation so families can visit injured service members at military hospitals in the U.S. and overseas.

The WWP offers counseling and peer support. It funds and sponsors injury adaptive sports and recreation programs.

Here’s how you can donate: Donors can contribute in set amounts of $10 or $25, or by pledge per mile. A 25 cents-per-mile pledge, times 68 miles, equals $17. A 50 cents-per-mile pledge would equal $34. A $1 per-mile pledge would equal $68.

Sign pledge sheets at American Legion Post 163 in Friday Harbor. Mail your check to American Legion Post 163, P.O. Box 662, Friday Harbor 98250 (make checks payable to Wounded Warrior Project). Or donate directly on the WWP’s Web site, www.woundedwarriorproject.org..

The Wounded Warrior Project is a 501c3 non-profit organization and is a Better Business Bureau accredited charity. Eighty-two cents of every dollar donated goes to programs and services. Donations are tax deductible. The Wounded Warrior Project's federal ID number is 20-2370934; its headquarters are located at 7020 A.C. Skinner Pkwy., Suite 100, Jacksonville, FL 32256; phone (877) 832-6997.

Meet Sgt. Tom Bauschke
Sgt. Tom Bauschke will be on the island the first week of February.

On Feb. 7-8, he will visit with second-graders at Friday Harbor Elementary School.

Call him at (360) 298-1013 or e-mail him at thruhiker@aol.com.

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