Veterans Day had always been a day-off from environmentalism for me, but this year Veterans week was different. The Sierra Club was really, for the first time, a full participant -- a story that has been building slowly
Several years ago, the Sierra Club published a book by Jonathan Trouern-Trend, an Iraq war veteran about his experiences bird-watching while on active duty -- Birding in Babylon. (It just came out in German!) Then, as an extension of our long-standing effort to get every American child an outdoor experience, the Club began to help support the National Military Family Organization's Operation Purple Camp. We discovered that, after an active-duty tour, military families were eager to reunite in the wilderness, and we partnered with the Armed Services YMCA. We also linked up with Outward Bound to help support their work with Veterans Expeditions.
We thought we had a fairly robust suite of activities in our Military Families Outdoors portfolio, when we heard about Homes for our Troops, a wonderful organization helping build housing for disabled veterans. The Sierra Club agreed to provide the necessary additional funding for these homes to be built using the latest green technology, so this week Sierra Club Foundation President Bob McKinney and Executive Director Peter Martin had the opportunity be present when Marine Corporal Visnu Gonzalez, a paralyzed veteran, received the keys to his new LEED-platinum home in Hillsdale, New Jersey.
And on Veterans Day itself, Sierra Club President Allison Chin and Military Families Outdoor direct Martin Le Blanc joined First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden for ServiceNation's Mission Serve initiative kickoff in Washington, D.C. The purpose of Mission Serve: Forging a Continuum of Service is to unite the worlds of military and civilian service, tapping the energy, wisdom and experience of the millions of citizens --in uniform and out -- who are dedicated to strengthening America.
Our next challenge? We're looking at how we can make sure veterans have a fair shot at getting green jobs!
People are often very surprised when I explain to them that the Sierra Club now proudly counts among its friends and partners a whole host of veterans organizations -- as well as military families themselves. And certainly the Club had -- and still has -- a lot to learn from these new relationships. But is this really such a new thing? We too often forget that the first protectors of our national parks were soldiers. To remind us, the Club has just published Gloryland, a novel based on the story of the African-American "Buffalo Soldiers" who were the first rangers at Yosemite -- written by Shelton Johnson, the inspirational ranger many of us just watched on Ken Burns's series, The National Parks, America's Best Idea. As John Muir told us, "When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find that it is hitched to everything in the universe."
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