Through a partnership with Warriorgateway.org and Service Nation, the Sierra Club teamed up with a great group of local volunteers and organizations in Seattle, Honolulu, Denver, and Tuscon to deliver four great service projects as a living memorial for our Armed Forces, veterans, and their families. We closed in on nearly 900 volunteers all told throughout the events with countless others being able to benefit from the great work that day!
Special thanks to the Veterans Conservation Corps, Southwest Conservation Corps, Veterans Green Jobs, Sierra Club-Hawaii, and of course, Warriorgateway.org and Service Nation. VCC's own Jeremy Grisham discusses the Seattle event below. Join us tomorrow when we get you up to date on what happened in Hawaii!
Hamm Creek Estuary nestled gently in an industrial area along a notoriously polluted stretch of the Duwamish River in South Seattle, has slowly become a small breath of life in an increasingly hectic and uncertain world. I first became acquainted with the site fresh from an early, medical retirement from active duty where I served as a Hospital Corpsman in the US Navy. Those early days after my retirement were some of the most chaotic and scary days of my life, more so than my time in combat in Iraq. The difference for me being, in Iraq I had an identity, purpose and like everyone in my unit sacred responsibility for oneself and for my brothers in arms. Something that was unceremoniously stripped away the day my terminal leave ended. I formed a nasty habit of cutting and I managed to literally isolate myself from my family – my children included – and my friends.
Eventually I made my way back into college and I was introduced to environmental issues and the benefits of service learning, through a unique course offered by an incredible person, a doctor of Anthropology and a Gulf War veteran. He and that work opened my eyes and awakened the first phase of what would become a difficult and thus far exciting process of recovery. During my time in that coursework I became aware of a newly developed program offered by the Washington State Dept. of Veterans Affairs called the Veterans Conservation Corps or VCC, and of another, equally important mentor in my now boss, Mark Fischer the program’s Director. Mark encouraged me to become a contractor for the VCC and I clumsily made my way through a mix of veteran advocacy, student veteran success and retention and selfishly habitat restoration, which leads me back to Hamm Creek.
Hamm Creek has become the heart of the VCC’s environmental work, in large part from the work of a Vietnam combat veteran named John Beal. John’s story is far too long and distinguished for me to do justice in a short blog blurb but, in short this man courageously took a medical prognosis of only a few months to live and he transformed those few months into over 20 years of environmental activism. John made drastic changes in himself and green spaces (or not so green spaces back then) in and around his neighborhood along the Duwamish River and the Puget Sound. From my understanding he was a major player in the “daylighting” of Hamm Creek; the stretch has become an estuary and active and diverse home for native flora and fauna. Osprey, Bald Eagle, Beaver and juvenile salmon round out animal activity too great for my limited knowledge and many people use the site for bird watching, dog walking and general relaxation.
The VCC has hosted small events at Hamm Creek for years. Intimate, and veteran safe functions where there is just as much inter-service chiding as there is there is any work being done. Through what has become, in my opinion an invaluable and important friendship with the fine folks at the Sierra Club, I’ve been introduced to a whole new way of rallying the troops for events like the 9/11 Day of Service and Veteran’s Day events. They have introduced the VCC to new and equally important community partners like Mission Serve and Warrior Gateway.org who helped me organize this year’s Veteran’s Day @ Hamm Creek Estuary event on 11/11/11. Man what a great project. On a crisp, cold and at times exceptionally wet Veteran’s Day, 63 volunteers came out in all; veteran, civilian and families alike, and we put in a good days work.
Removing nearly ¾ acre of Scotch Broom and Himalayan Blackberry, we gave young trees and shrubs hope for a better tomorrow, we made room to introduce more native species, and as the day wore down our spirits rose. Filled with hope and the means to work for a better tomorrow, I can’t help but relate to Hamm Creek, John Beal, veterans young and old and even the community in general. I mean, look at what a bunch of strangers can accomplish in just one day in diverse conditions, amidst all our individual issues. Look at what veterans, like myself who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or Traumatic Brain Injury or any host of physical impairments resulting from combat exposure can do. Despite it all, together, we literally can accomplish anything.
Veterans Conservation Corps