From the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, two combat-injured veterans make their way down the final descent of the 20-mile Bridger Ridge Run August 11, 2018. Matt Ramsey, a ranger-tabbed infantry squad leader with the Army’s 10th Mountain Division, lost his left leg below the knee when he stepped on a Taliban land mine while on patrol in Afghanistan’s infamous Arghandab Valley in 2011. Ramsey had trained for the Bozeman, Montana, mountaintop run, but had he not encountered former Marine recon sniper Mike Mendoza along the trail, he’s not sure how he would have finished.

Mendoza is a Navy Cross recipient, awarded for bravery and decisive action that broke a massive enemy ambush on his platoon during the first Battle of Fallujah in 2004. On a later deployment to the same area, Mendoza was injured by an insurgent grenade and was medically retired. Endurance races became part of his recovery, and he now holds the world record for the most 70.3 Ironman Triathlons completed in a single year (he completed 26 triathlons and two marathons last year in only eight months). Ramsey and Mendoza met through Warriors and Quiet Waters Foundation, a program that strives to enact positive change in the lives of combat-wounded veterans through fly fishing Montana’s world-renown trout waters.

The weather for this year’s Bridge Ridge Run was one of the hottest in recent memory, according to race coordinators. When their paths crossed around mile five, Mendoza recognized the signs of heat stress on Ramsey. The former Marine decided to stick with the infantryman for the remainder of the race, using his accumulated knowledge of endurance-race field craft to help Ramsey finish. For the final two-mile descent down a steep zigzagging trail through sharp boulders and loose rock, Mendoza literally had Ramsey’s back.

Written by SGT MAC