THE BLOG

Vets Celebrate Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument's First Anniversary

05/21/2015 05:23 pm ET | Updated May 21, 2016

I was returning from a multi-day sniper mission in Iraq and our team stopped at Ballad Air Base. It was one of the few posts with a theater. I remember standing for the National Anthem before the picture watching scenes like the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, the Rocky Mountains, and other landmarks light up the big screen. In the glow of the projector I could see tired dirty soldiers, like myself, look in tearful awe of the majestic beauty of our national treasures. It was then I realized that our identity as Americans were directly connected to our public lands.

I served proudly in the U.S. Armed Forces and I continued to serve my country when I joined the coalition to designate Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks as a national monument.

Veterans like myself have joined the effort to protect these landmarks because it preserves part of our national identity and history for future generations. The Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument in fact, is located at the crossroads of New Mexican and American history.

Protecting our public lands honors our shared legacy, protects freedom of access for outdoor recreation, and enhances our economy.

I once swore an oath to defend our way of life as Americans. It is encouraging to see some of our decision makers dedicating themselves to further protect our national heritage by preserving our natural resources.

The Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument was designated by President Obama on May 21, 2014, in response to an outpouring of diverse community support that crowned more than a decade of local effort to protect these public lands.

Hispanic leaders, veterans, Native Americans, sportsmen and women, small business owners, local elected officials, faith leaders, conservationists, and others all worked together to support the community-proposed Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument.

Senators Tom Udall, Martin Heinrich, and Jeff Bingaman (now retired) responded to the community's call for action and worked for years to protect these public lands by introducing legislation in Congress. Unfortunately, gridlock in Congress could not be overcome. When the community took their case to President Obama and Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, they responded by holding public meetings and ultimately using the Antiquities Act to protect the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument.

The Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument is proof that the vision of fellow military veteran President Theodore Roosevelt is still alive today.

The Antiquities Act is a law that has been used over 140 times by nearly every President since Teddy Roosevelt - eight Republican and eight Democratic - to designate monuments and protect public lands that are unique and important to the American people. It is an extension of American legacy to preserve our natural landscapes for sportsmen, recreationists, and future generations to discover and explore. Protecting and preserving unique public lands and our outdoor and cultural heritage for our children and grandchildren are not Republican or Democratic values - these are American values we all share.

But, not all of our politicians are heroes of these American values. The Antiquities Act is under attack by some in Congress who seek to gut the law and take away presidents' ability to establish monuments. Gutting the Antiquities Act would also take away an important tool for communities across the country that are working to manage our public lands and waters in a way that sustains local economies, ensures equitable public access, and enhances the quality of life for our children.

Weakening the Antiquities Act will not only take away the ability of citizens to appeal to the Executive Branch to protect special places, it will also hurt local economies. Many studies have shown that communities near protected public lands see significant increases in tourism, economic activity, and job creation directly related to their monuments or other protected public lands.

I support leaders like Senators Udall and Heinrich that up for the lands we love. All Americans deserve to access and enjoy the public lands that belong to us all and to pass that opportunity along to our children and grandchildren. Generations to come must have the opportunity to learn about the significance of these public lands and the stories they tell of our nation.

Organ Mountain-Desert Peaks National Monument is an example of our American identity. Its part of the heart and soul of our great country, and it's worth fighting for.