Local helps organize dream winter vacation for Army vets
January 28, 2010
Steamboat Springs — The first time Routt County resident Rob Powers met Sgt. Austin "Ice" Eisinger, Sgt. Chris "Bear" Bair and Spc. Jeff "Buckshot" Baker, there was a multiday sandstorm raging outside in 120-degree heat.
As he recounted that first meeting while sitting inside Bear River Bar & Grill on Tuesday afternoon, there was a multiday snowstorm drifting outside through just-below-freezing cold.
No one minded the change in conditions.
Eisinger, Bair and Baker spent the past four years working together in the 2nd battalion of the 27th infantry regiment of the U.S. Army. They deployed twice to Iraq, spending about a year there on each trip before leaving active Army service in November.
For the past week or so, the trio of war-proven friends has been on the first leg of a 34-day road trip that will take them to several ski areas, the X Games and the Winter Olympics. They spent Monday and Tuesday at Steamboat Ski Area and went snowmobiling in North Routt County on Wednesday.
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The "warrior road trip" is the first of its kind, said Powers, founder of The Warrior Tours. The organization puts on athletic events to offer recreation for soldiers and maintain connections for them back home.
Warrior Tours, with help from ESPN, Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. and many other sponsors, is working to make the soldiers' month-long trip unforgettable.
"We already kind of had the trip planned out a little bit, and when Rob came along, he made it 10 times more amazing," Eisinger said.
A full-time Routt County resident since 1994, Powers lives with his family near Hahn's Peak Village and works throughout the year announcing sporting events.
In July 2009, he headed to Iraq for a Warrior Tours venture. On the way to help conduct several running races at military bases, Powers visited a military hospital at Contingency Operating Base Speicher. That's where he met Baker, Bair and Eisinger.
Not long before that visit, Baker was injured in a roadside bomb explosion. Hidden in a black plastic bag on the side of the road, the bomb sent Baker flying 30 to 40 feet when it exploded, Bair said. Peppered with shrapnel and debris on his left side, Baker was sent to a military hospital at COB Speicher.
A few hours after he got to the hospital, Baker's general pinned a Purple Heart to his pillowcase.
One last celebration
During Powers' Army service in the 1980s, he developed a close friendship with one of his noncommissioned officers. When that officer died in Afghanistan in 2006, Powers decided to find a new way to support the troops.
"That was the impetus for me to say, 'I know a lot of people, and I've got a lot of friends, so what can I do?'" said Powers, who has announced sports for about two decades and spent time coaching.
At Baker's bedside, Powers mentioned that he was from Steamboat, and Eisinger and Bair mentioned post-discharge plans to check out the Olympics. Powers offered to take those plans to the next level.
"It really made the last six months a lot more bearable, especially with him hurt," Eisinger said, referring to the trip and Baker's injury.
"It's given us so much to look forward to. … We all wanted to do something together, just one last celebration, and this is it," Eisinger said. "You really can't get more epic than this for us. We love mountains, we love snowboarding, and we love the Olympics."