Before I joined the Sierra Club this past May, I was working in Denver, Colorado with a local non-profit, Veterans Expeditions, who currently have as their goal to get two four person climbing teams up to the top of Mt. Logan in 2014. While I was working at Veterans Expeditions, I spent a lot of time with various conservation and outdoor recreation groups speaking about the importance of getting veterans, and the military community in general out on public lands.
Since that time, a lot of wonderful things have happened, included the National Park Service's new initiative, Post to Parks, which we at the Sierra Club are fortunate enough to be working on with the NPS to deliver some pilot programming early next year.
Tomorrow, I am honored to speak to a gathering of employees at the Bureau of Land Management about my experiences outside and why it matters so much for veterans and the military community (and all of America). The BLM is also working with us to develop some programming similar to Post to Parks. There's plenty of outdoors out there and plenty of opportunities to get our military and veteran community outside, and I'm glad to see the cooperative nature of the Agencies at work.
The below entry was part of the first note I sent to the BLM to get them interested in our work.
As a veteran, I have not only experienced the healing powers of the public lands first hand, but have been lucky enough to hear others tell me about their experiences. The first testimony was a powerful one, as it happened somewhat in reverse. In a discussion with a representative of a National Conservation Organization, while I was explaining to him why his organization needed to work with us on the military outdoors issue he said, "One of the highest levels and expressions of freedom is using our public lands. I may not be a rich man, but I have access to desert, to tundra, to forests, to mountains, rivers, seaside, and lakes. Thanks for protecting that." This simple act of thanks, connected to a specific reason why to say thank you to a veteran made a strong impact on my land ethos. It was especially powerful as it had come only a few months after a training hike for Longs Peak with several veterans and active duty Marines (see the short documenatry about the final climb below or click here).
At the foot of the trail that would take us to Arapahoe Pass in Colorado, an Active Duty Marine who had served two tours in Afghanistan and grew up in Denver, not more than two and a half hours from the trail head, approached me before the hike, and grabbing my shirt near my collar, he said, almost angrily:
“I don’t want to hear anything about the environment, and I don’t want to hear anything about healing. I just want to hike!” That's all I wanted to do to!
I smiled and off we went. Several hours later, overlooking Arapahoe Pass on a windy but sunny Colorado day, the same Marine turned to me after looking out on the vista high in the mountains and said, “This is what we fought for.”
Indeed, we fought not just for an ideal, but for the land, for the sea; not just people, but place. I could go on for hours about concepts like Wilderness Diplomacy, how critical and fundamental time outdoors is to the integration of our veteran population, how it can lead to healing, etc., but for now I’ll leave this story at its rest.
After all, if you keep reading this blog, you know the story is coming. We invite you to be part of that story. Get outside, and take a military family or a veteran with you!
~Stacy Bare, OIF Veteran
Military Families and Veteran Representative to the Sierra Club
"Helping America's Military and Veteran Community to experience the freedom of the land they defend"