Celebration of the Military Child Outside!
I spent two years in Colorado prior to my joining the Sierra Club and heading back east to DC. In Colorado, I was always aware of two great resources: the outdoors and the strong military community. Often times it did not seem like all Coloradans paid enough attention to either of them. It is easy to take the mountains and rivers for granted in Colorado. We will get outside tomorrow, next week or next summer. As beautiful as those mountains and rivers can look, they can also be imposing, frightening and hard to get to. Who has the time, money or experience to get outside?
Others may feel the same way about our military and veteran community. They look sharp in parades. We’re proud of their service. We might thank them when we see them around town or we might put a Support the Troops ribbon magnet on our car. But, just like the outdoors, the military community and veterans can be imposing, frightening and hard to get to. What do you say to a man or woman who has just come home from war? Why do all the men have such short hair? How do you get involved with a veteran or military family when you know all the horrible statistics? Eighteen veterans a day committing suicide, higher rates of divorce and children with more anxiety than non-military families. These sobering facts are just the start.
We often forget that it isn’t just the uniformed members of our Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force or Coast Guard who serve. Military kids, families and close friends also serve. The service may look different, but it is no less important than what is happening on post or overseas. The needs of these military children are also great. Recognizing those needs and marrying the struggles and opportunities of being a military kid or family together with the great outdoors just might be an effective part of the solution for truly serving military kids, families and veterans. The Sierra Club teamed up with UpaDowna, an initiative of the Pikes Peak Community Foundation and the National Military Family Association, to ensure the Colorado Springs military and veteran community could learn how to get outside this past Sunday, July 17 at America the Beautiful Park. More than 20 local and regional partners from state parks to national monuments showed up to provide information and activities for close to 400 of our youngest heroes and their families.
What we learned was that there was a need, a desire, to bring the two communities together, the outdoors and the military. What we were not surprised to find out either is that events like these do not happen enough in Colorado Springs or elsewhere. Community members who were not military enjoyed enjoyed meeting the diversity of families and experiences that come to their area to serve in the military and many commented on making new friends. Many participants were pleasantly shocked about the myriad experiences awaiting them in their backyard to get outside and were able to enroll their families in upcoming outdoor education and recreation programs.
People asked us if we were going to do the event again next year, if we would do it again this year, and if we were ‘on tour’ throughout America’s military communities to get everyone outside, not just the Springs community.
While we’re not on tour this year, maybe we will be next year, helping to bring together all the different organizations that exist to get you outside in a military community near you! Together, we can change the world, but it starts at the community level, not the national level. And to that end, I’d like to close my first blog for the Sierra Club with a huge shout out to both UpaDowna and our local Pikes Peak region Sierra Club who were co-sponsors of the event. Without either of these fantastic organizations, we would not have enjoyed the success of yesterday. Here’s to new friends outside!
--by Stacy Bare, National Military and Veteran Representative