For the past five years, NOLS grad Elias Munoz has been serving in the Army's 101st Airborne Division. Promoted to sergeant after just two years, he’s now a squad leader in Ft. Benning, Georgia. Munoz has been on two deployments, including six months in Kosovo and a year with Operation Iraqi Freedom.
NOLS seems a long way from the famous 101st Airborne Divison, but that's where Munoz was in 1998, when he graduated from an Absaroka Wilderness course. He attended his NOLS course with a scholarship from the Los Angeles Conservation Corps, a group that pairs inner-city kids with educational opportunities.
“There I was, bagging peaks and crossing the Continental Divide,” Munoz says of his course. “In the beginning, I was frightened and overwhelmed. I was far away from home, and I was helpless. From day one, I began to learn the basics, slowly building confidence and muscular endurance. By the end of the course, I was an outdoorsman, a guru.”
After a NOLS internship, and a Whitewater River Expedition course in 1999, Munoz brought his NOLS skills to the Army. His transition to life as a soldier seemed familiar right away. “Humping a pack through Wyoming terrain made it easy when it came time to hump my rucksack in basic training,” says Munoz. “I already knew how to waterproof my gear and pack tight, so I never had that problem. Land navigation was a refresher course when I got to my unit. And practicing Leave No Trace at NOLS kept me in the habit of never leaving a trail, and packing what I brought in right back out. I had knowledge of first aid, insects, weather, risk management…I was ready to go.”
Though he’s now in a non-deployable unit, Munoz knows he'll most likely be on the front lines again sometime soon. But he’s ready. “At NOLS I learned that you can do anything if you put your mind to it. Perseverance, dedication, loyalty and personal courage are what I brought home, and the most important one of all, leadership! I learned not to fear adversity, or diversity, but instead meet them head on, and when you do, you turn it into courage!”