Mark Lemke is today’s guest blogger. Today is Mark’s last day with Mission Outdoors. Mark has worked for six months at the Sierra Club as part of the highly prestigious Apprenticeship program. He was one of nine apprentices nationwide and selected from a pool of 300 applicants this past year. In early 2012, the Sierra Club will be publishing a white paper authored by Mark Lemke about the possibilities of outdoor recreation as a large piece of the solution in helping military families and veterans cope with the stresses of 10 years at war. Thanks for all your hard work Mark! You'll be missed!
The time I spent at the Sierra Club I always felt there was some kind of stigma about veterans and the environmental or outdoor movement. The reason I felt it is because it does exist. Veterans are associated with social and political beliefs that do not always align with the environmental movement and vice versa. I am not sure if this is due to ignorance, but I know that I certainly fit into this stereotype myself. Like Bob Dylan once sang though, “Times are a changing”.
The reality is, both sides have a lot in common. We’re all fighting for our land. Sierra Club forced me in some kind of subconscious way to face my veteran background. I had both an internal and an external struggle here. What I felt on the inside about being a veteran, getting outside, and the environmental movement, was very different than the external pressures I heard from fellow service members and non-veteran colleagues. In college I felt that I could not be both a veteran, and an environmental, or even an outdoor recreation activist. I thought the two couldn’t coexist, but I was happily proved wrong.
I like to think of myself as the breaker of stereotypes and I think that The Sierra Club Mission Outdoors: Military Family and Veterans Initiative does this as well. I’ve always had the internal struggle of what it means to be a veteran in today’s society. I did not intend on ‘being a veteran’. As such, I did not pay attention to the external pressures. I tried to justify to people why veterans need to be a major part of the environmental movement, but I could never really form a concrete argument. The key element to the puzzle was the external pressure. At the Sierra Club I received external pressure from other Sierra Club veterans and employees. It helped me to see the whole picture.
People today do not view veterans today as they did Vietnam veterans. There was no intervention from American society to help these men and women when they returned from war. They were simply forgotten. Veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are targeted for help and rehabilitation, yet veterans are still suffering and much of the help is cosmetic in nature; kind gestures, with little substance to offer real hopes of integration or healing. The major piece of the puzzle that is still missing on a grand scale is nature and outdoor recreation. What better medium than the outdoor world to bring together veterans and non-veterans to work individually or corporately on the issue at hand?
We, as veterans, fought for clean air and clean water, and those are just as much part of our benefits as anything!