Andersen: Veterans fight for public lands
May 8, 2015
Many of the combat veterans I lead into the wilderness on Huts for Vets trips at the 10th Mountain Huts become strong conservationists — especially after they have stood on the deck of Margy's Hut and gazed at the grandeur of the Williams Range.
These veterans are forever appreciative of wildlands that have given them solace, safety and camaraderie, plus the gratifying physical rigors of hiking at elevations well above where many of them come from.
When asked what they fought for during their deployments, many veterans say it was not fast food and Walmarts nor the plastic gewgaws and materialistic junk that clutter many of our lives.
These veterans fought for the land itself. They endured battle for the archetypal landscapes of the American West. Some held these lands in their mind's eyes during the worst of their service nightmares. For many, it was the land that got them through and the promise of their return to it.
Today, more and more veterans are fighting for the remnants of the American wilderness that are under attack. They are not using rifles, mortars or rockets. They are using political means as impassioned conservationists. Foremost among them is Stacy Bare, director of the Sierra Club's Mission Outdoors program.
Bare, a U.S. Army veteran who served in Iraq, was named in 2013 as one of National Geographic's adventurers of the year. He was selected in recognition of his work to get his fellow veterans outside and into wild places that, for him, provide the best healing opportunities available and serve as antidote to the soul wounds of combat.
Bare sent out an appeal last week asking like-minded veterans to support a measure challenging the sell-off of public lands being fomented by shortsighted Republicans who have no clue as to the value that our wildlands' heritage holds for our service members.
This is surprising given the Republican image as heritage-minded patriots. It turns out that their allegiance is more geared toward corporate profits, resource exploitation and the mindless war against nature. They are blind to natural beauty and see wild landscapes only on ledger sheets and profit margins for their already wealthy constituents and special interests.
Sell-off Republicans, however, will be hard pressed to thwart the efforts of veterans who have served their country in good faith and now expect their Congress members to serve their needs by conserving healing landscapes.
At Huts for Vets, we know that the wilderness is a place of national healing and that there is no greater moral reason for conserving it. We also know that mission-driven veterans will become the most effective conservationists. They have made ultimate sacrifices during their service and expect protection for the natural landscapes in which they find rejuvenation and the reaffirmation of life itself.
"Wilderness therapy for combat vets is an incredible and innovative concept," a Huts for Vets participant wrote in the Margy's Hut log two years ago. "What a journey! I have come further with braving my post-traumatic experiences in the last three days than I have in two years dealing with the VA."
"Being in this wilderness," wrote a former Army sergeant who saw brutal urban warfare in Iraq, "has helped me understand the value, quality and significance of these wild places. The men here have taught me that I must improve myself in order to enjoy the freedoms that we all fought for."
A hard-bitten Marine said wilderness saved his life.
"This was my first time in the wilds and it was with the best group of veterans I've ever been with," he wrote. "Huts for Vets and my fellow warriors saved my life over the last four days together. Finding healing from all the things we've experienced could not have happened in a better place."
Bare is launching a veteran campaign with an open letter to the 51 senators who voted to sell off our public lands. Whether you're a veteran or not, this is a worthy cause, both for our veterans and for our national heritage.
Contact Bare to join forces with a veteran who cares at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Paul Andersen's column appears on Mondays. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.