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November 11, 2013

American Heroes and an American Issue

This day is dedicated to honor America's veterans for their service and sacrifice. Really, though, veterans deserve our gratitude every day. So on this Veterans Day, I want both to express that gratitude and to do a little bit more. First, I want to reaffirm the Sierra Club's commitment to helping our veterans (and serving military and their families) to explore and enjoy the land they have served. Then, I want to point out something that's too often overlooked about our veterans.

Every American deserves and can benefit from outdoor experiences, whether it's a local hike or a rugged trek in the mountains. That's a big part of what the Sierra Club is about. And no one deserves it more than our military and veteran community (and that includes families, spouses, and kids). That's what the Club's Military Families and Veterans Initiative is all about. A great way to learn what that means in terms of "boots on the ground" is to check out the blog of Stacy Bare, the director of Sierra Club Outdoors and himself a skier, climber, mountaineer, and, yes, U.S. Army veteran. Stacy knows firsthand how nature can heal the spirit, and his passion is infectious.

By the way, if you're a veteran, you don't have to wait for Stacy's next ice climbing expedition. The Sierra Club offers veterans a 10 percent discount on all of our national and international Outings trips.

From the start, our work with vets and military families has been collaborative, but one particular partner we've gained in the past year deserves special recognition: our federal government. It's no secret that the Sierra Club and the Bureau of Land Management haven't always seen eye-to-eye on every issue over the years, but helping veterans explore and enjoy our public lands is a mission we agree on 100 percent -- we even put it in writing last summer. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell is committed to making the outdoors more accessible to vets (you can give her a big thumbs-up on that here).

Although Veterans Day is good time to ask what we can do for those who've served, it's also worth reminding ourselves what they can still do for us. Our veterans are an invaluable and too often under-appreciated national resource. One way many of them are still serving is by helping to build the clean energy economy. The White House reminded us of this last week with its latest "Champions of Change" event, which honored a dozen veterans who are innovating in clean energy and climate action, whether by starting businesses or spreading the word about why we need to leave fossil fuels behind. And, of course, veterans are doing much of the literal building, too, whether it's installing solar panels or working on wind turbines.

It's not just because of their skills that veterans are drawn to clean energy, though. Serving overseas puts energy issues in sharp relief: Our enemies target fuel convoys, and our soldiers are dying to protect fossil fuels. After you've put your life on the line because we need oil to get from point A to point B, you come to feel differently about the alternatives. Here's what Robin Eckstein, a truck driver during the Iraq War, said about the need for clean energy during the White House event last week: "It's not a right issue. It's not a left issue. It's an American issue."

We have no shortage of good reasons to switch from fossil fuels to clean energy. The day when we no longer need to ask anyone to risk his or her life for dirty fuels is the one to remember today.

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