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BLM / Sierra Club Contest Winners

Today we announced the winners of the inaugural Bureau of Land Management and Sierra Club Essay and Photo Contest for Military Service Members and Families. Hopefully, you had a chance to read, watch, and look at, all of this year’s entries. Every service member, veteran, or military family member who participated did an amazing job. Looking at all of the entries and reading through so many thoughtful essays, made choosing the winner difficult. The only harder choice I ever have to make is when people ask me where my favorite place to be outside is, though I can generally answer anywhere outdoors.

 We want to congratulate Scott Ostrom, USMC, for his film, Mt. Shavono, Veterans Expeditions as this years first place winner. Liam Corley, (USN), won second place with How Courage is Bred, a moving essay about returning to the same place with his children, that his father, a Vietnam Veteran, took him. Kami Fluetsch (USN) third place with Beauty of Nature, a stunning set of photographs.


I encourage you to take a look at all three winning entries, but also hope you take to heart the words other service members wrote about our public lands. From My Heaven On Earth, “On these lands, I not only feel at peace, but most alive. I am able to heal from my struggles by expressing my hurts and I can, once again, be fulfilled with life and energy.” While our public lands support all of us, regardless of veteran status, it is clear that these places can be, should be, and often times are, a key peace of successful reintegration from service and war.

From Why I Serve, an essay from a Minnesota Air National Guard pilot, who synthesizes so clearly why he serves, while also emphasizing the family nature of his broader unit:

The land, my family, and the Guard are all bound together now; one and the same. I do it [serve] to come home to a safe place where I can hear the laughter of my children in the Northern Wilds. I do it so I can share the passing of the seasons outside with them. The joy I experience with them in the outdoors is greater than the pain of leaving them. It’s what I do.

From The Forest, we learn of a veteran who no longer wants to live, but doesn’t want to do. Hoping instead for the symptoms, the issues created from being a prisoner in her own home from two categories of PTSD, violent crime and combat, that she found her sanctuary in the woods and with each mile, put her past further behind as she got out of her head and back into her body.

Each writer, photographer, and videographer nails it right on the head. Scott Ostrom, the winner, stated in his film that he realized, outside, the greatest thing he ever did was not in combat, but that he had so much more to do and to live for in this world.  All of our contestants do the same and found amazing power, sometimes healing, on our public lands. The wife of a retired Navy veteran closed her short essay, Wilderness and Freedom, about a beautiful photograph in the Southwest with these words:

My husband felt that is not enough to fight for our country – to protect our freedom; it is even more important to enjoy it.  Wilderness is vital to the human spirit. So get out there, ramble out yonder and explore, and contemplate the lovely, mysterious, and awesome space that the public lands provide.

 Please take her advice in 2013. Remember your experiences and we look forward to hearing what you have to say, the pictures you take, and the movies you make, right here next year!



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