Great Outdoors America week by far has had the biggest impact on my post-college life. When I was in the Marines I never envisioned myself in Washington, DC, advocating for something I believe in. Last week I participated in Great Outdoors America Week, which marked a milestone for me. Recently I joined the Sierra Club through their apprentice program. The program helps new college graduates get a foothold in the environmental non-profit sector. The experienced gained this past week was priceless and was a window into how democracy works in America. While in college certain topics, such as the wolf delisting, made me upset and I felt powerless to do anything about it. Now I know there is a way to ensure that decision-makers can hear my voice.
Sitting on an airplane on my way to Seattle a few days later, I finally found some time to reflect on the last four days. One thought kept circling around in my jetlagged mind: how the veterans I met were so different from me, but still shared my values about the outdoors. My colleague, Stacy Bare, of the Military Families Outdoors program brought a few vets from the Marine Corps to DC to also participate in Great Outdoors America week to talk about the importance of connecting children, veterans and families with nature.
Scott Ostrom and Chris Fesmire had different experiences than me while we were in the Marines. We found the outdoors in different ways, but we found that the outdoors is a necessary part of our lives. Being a former Marine and an environmental activist, I have been doubted and questioned by people who do not understand how I could make the transition from soldier to conservationist. I didn’t feel alone during Great Outdoors America week and the illusion in my mind that I was the only former Marine trying to protect the outdoors vanished. I discovered that others like Scott and Chris care as much as I do.
-- Mark Lemke, a former Marine, is a Sierra Club Apprentice with the Mission Outdoors Program