Saturday, July 13, 2024
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Lone Survivor Inspires at Higher Ground’s Hero's Journey
Retired Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell tells Cole Petrie that his brother Morgan Luttrell also served as a Navy SEAL. “Now he’s a Congressman. I’m a voter so he works for me,” he added.
Saturday, July 13, 2024


Marcus Luttrell was the lone survivor of an Afghanistan operation, in which his three comrades and a SEAL Team attempting a rescue was killed. After recovering from a broken back and numerous shrapnel wounds, he returned to duty fighting in Operation Iraqi Freedom until his knees were blown out and his spine fractured again.

But his injuries, which earned him the Navy Cross and Purple Heart, haven’t stymied the spirit of the retired Navy SEAL. Asked what is the first thing he thinks about upon awakening, he replied:

“I wonder: How am I going to serve today?”

Maggie Johnson waves the American flag as an attendee bids on an auction item.

That set the tone for Higher Ground annual Hero’s Journey Gala held Sunday night at Tom and Elizabeth Tierney’s River Grove Farm north of Hailey. The sold-out crowd raised their paddles high as they sought to make it possible for Higher Ground to serve returning servicemen through therapeutic fishing, cycling, skiing and other adaptive programs.

“I m a psychologist and we work with the veterans and first responders in Higher Ground’s camps,” said Nina Clark Ericson. “People leave the program different than when they came because of the bonding the camps offer, because of the chance to admit that their life is not perfect. We’ve had some first responders who didn’t even know they had PTSD until they came to camp.”

Luttrell told how he and his twin brother were 14 when they began training to become Navy SEALS in their home state of Texas. He deployed to Iraq during the 2003 invasion of Iraq where he searched for weapons of mass destruction and helped capture terrorists.

Two years later he went to Afghanistan where he and his four-man team were ambushed from three sides, taking fire from machine guns, AK-47s and 82mm mortars. Pashtun villagers helped him escape after a rescue helicopter was shot down, and he was rescued days later by Army Rangers and Afghan National Army soldiers.

Tom and Elizabeth Tierney hosted the fundraiser at their River Grove Farm north of Hailey where attendees enjoyed checking out Tom's collection of fine art sculptures, including the horse behind him.

He co-authored the New York Times bestseller “Lone Survivor,” copies of which were given to those attending the Higher Ground event. And Mark Wahlberg starred in the film version, which was released on Christmas Day in 2013.

Luttrell described how the Navy trained him to go out in public to talk about his book and the film. And the Navy asked him to serve as an advisor on the film.

“The Admiral told me: ‘You’re going to do more for the Navy now than when you were in.’ So, I became an editor,” he said.

Luttrell also founded the Lone Survivor Foundation headquartered in Houston to help wounded warriors and their families.

Attendees said the Pledge of Allegiance before dinner commenced.

You need to understand: We only have today. Yesterday’s gone, and tomorrow’s not promised to you,” he said. “The thing you can control is your effort. The thing you can control is your attitude. I’ve been to hell and back. I had to go through every ounce of pain I had to go through to get the right to speak to you.”



Stefanie Persanti Stark told the audience how she accompanied her husband, Ret. Marine Lt. Col. Christopher J. Stark, to a fishing camp hosted by Higher Ground as her husband transitioned to civilian life.

Gabriele Tierney and her husband Eric Brindelglass threw their support behind Higher Ground after moving to the valley.

 “All of the Higher Ground staff had our backs the entire time…we made friends we still get together with, and we were given money that we could put towards camping trips as a family,” she said.

Higher Ground’s new executive director Cole Petrie said it felt right that Higher Ground Hero’s Journey comes right after the Fourth of July when everyone’s feeling patriotic: “We are here to make a profound difference so we humbly ask your support.”

“For 25 years you’ve been showing up for this and by showing up you’re saying, ‘I am here, being here and showing up so we can make an impact for vets, first responders and kids,’” added Kate Dobbie, Higher Ground’s development director.

Auction lots included a chance to hit the links at the Valley Club with PGA champion Davis Love III, an exclusive Jamaican getaway on a 2,200-acre sugar plantation dating to the 18th century, a fly fishing trip in Argentina, a chance to fly in a World War II P-51 Mustang and lunch with The Fonz, or actor Henry Winkler.

Chad Martin, who has been a volunteer ski instructor with Higher Ground, showed off a chairlift chair that Sun Valley donated to Higher Ground. Martin, who owns Rocky Mountain Reflections in Hailey,  refurbished it, painted it red, white and blue, and covered it with cow hide.

“Teaching skiing with Higher Ground is a great way to be involved. I get as much out of it as the kids,” he said.

Eric Brindelglass said he and his wife Gabrielle Tierney got involved in programs like 100 Men Who Care and the Wood River Women’s Foundation after moving to the valley a few years ago so that they could learn about the nonprofits in the Wood River Valley. Higher Ground was one of the ones they decided they needed to support.

“I’m grateful that Higher Ground exists,” said Gabrielle Tierney. “They help vets, and that’s so important.”


The Higher Ground Invitational will be held Sept. 27 at Sun Valley Golf Course.  The event will include golf, drinks, awards and an auction.

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