The morning after you’ve come down from any big climb is always a tough day, especially if you’ve had a successful summit on some mountain, some climb that has occupied your mind for quite some time. Maybe you’re sitting in base camp, knowing that you’ve got to pack everything up and start the long trek to the trail head, or maybe you’re willing to pack it all up into a big birds nest in the back of the truck and drive back into civilization.
Shockingly, it’s a similar feeling the day after a long advocacy week in DC up on the ‘Hill’. For the last three days, we’ve been climbing all over Capitol Hill to take our message: that support needs to be given to help get military families, veterans, and youth outside, and that the great outdoors and our public lands is what we went off to defend as much as anything else, to a host of bi-partisan elected officials and the administration.
To be honest with you, I’d rather tackle a 5.9 pitch without rope in a cold pre-dawn setting then repeat what we just did over the last three days, but I know that I’ll always carry a rope and that our elected officials need to hear from us. So it’s likely that one of those things never will happen and I’ll repeat some time up on the Hill. Like any daunting climb, when its over, you’re both exhausted and exhilarated. It was amazing to hear the number of Representatives and Senators we met with say, “we’ve never made the connection!” between veterans, military and the outdoors.
It all started out last Monday with a showing of the Reel Rocks Film Festival to keep us motivated for the great outdoors. Without the support of Potomac Appalachian Trail Club-Mountaineering Section, DC Adventure Films, the Arlington Draft House, and our local climbing gyms, we could not have pulled off such an amazing, sold out event!
Something that seems so intuitive to me, that we fought for the outdoors and public lands as much as anything else, and that outside is where we can go to best release the stresses of combat and military service, seems at first glance so strange to so many others. However, following the fantastic testimonies of two disabled Marine veterans, former Force Recon Sergeant and now Colorado resident, Scott Ostrum, and retired SGT Christopher Fesmire (and his service dog, Glen), Congress is starting to believe.
Kate Weihe from Idaho’s own Higher Ground also ably supported us. A fantastic organization based out of Sun Valley’s Adaptive Sports program, Higher Ground has been one of the most comprehensive outdoor recreation service providers to military families and veterans in the Nation. Emily Potter, a VA Recreational Therapist from Salt Lake City spoke professionally to the importance of the outdoors for veterans healing, emotionally, physically, and mentally.
We also want to make sure we thank our own internal team, led by Jackie Ostfeld, Tiffany Saleh, supported by Mark Lemke (also a Marine), Kristina Ortez, Lori Stutz, and a visit from Mission Outdoors Director, Martin LeBlanc. The reception from other outdoor organizations like The Wilderness Society, National Wildlife Federation, SOS, and the constant support of the Armed Forces Y and Y-USA made the week a roaring success.
Having just moved from Colorado, I am also proud to say that my adopted home state gave us the best reception up on the Hill from Sen Bennett’s willingness to meet with our entire delegation, to Sen Udall’s willingness to take unplanned time out from his schedule to hang out with our Marine’s in a hall way and share stories and experiences from the great outdoors, to Representatives Polis and Pearlmutter who took time to meet with us, and Rep Coffman’s staff who took the time at the end of a long day!
There are many more to thank and many more Representatives and Senators that graciously welcomed us to the Hill and to all of you, we extend our heartiest thanks!
Meanwhile, if you want to honor our military, make sure you get outside and use the lands we fought to defend!
See you on the trail!
--Stacy Bare, Sierra Club's National Military Family and Veteran Representative