Serving in both the Gulf War and Operation Iraqi Freedom, I've certainly seen the horrors of war. Like so many I served with, as well as those who came before me, and came after me, I've experienced the most intense mental pressure possible. And, like so many others, when I was overseas, it was my memories of home that kept me going. One particular thought I had in the desert was the wild spaces, the untouched nature, in my home state of Arkansas. It was something to look forward to, something to hold on to. And when I came home, it provided the peace and quiet that I needed to heal. For millions of others, throughout the years, these lands provide the exact same thing -- a therapeutic place to decompress. I can't overstate how important the natural wonders of America are to our veterans. That's why it was extremely gratifying to hear that President Obama, through the Joining Forces Initiative, will be giving free annual passes to all of our National Parks and public lands to all active-duty military and their families. The pass will waive most fees for entry to our National Parks and public lands, including those managed by the National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Army Corps. This totals over 2000 sites, which our troops and their families will now be able to visit, free of charge. It might seem just like a nice gesture to offer the free pass, but it really is more. It's an understanding by the President, as well as the First Lady and Jill Biden (who head up the initiative), of the importance of public lands to those who served. This is an issue I've been personally working on for over a year, now. It doesn't escape me that one of our greatest soldiers, Teddy Roosevelt, is the father of the conservation movement, which created so many of these publicly protected lands. Roosevelt fought for these lands in battle and he fought to protect them from irresponsible development and corporate greed. It's a tradition that has carried on, through generations. Retired Brigadier General Steven Anderson had this to say about America's public lands:
On a recent trip to the Mojave I was reminded of the beauty and glory of the desert. Millions of Americans visit public lands like this each year. It disturbs me deeply that these beautiful lands, America's treasure, could potentially be harmed by speculative operations such as drilling and mining. Protection of our public lands is patriotic and the right thing to do. Congress needs to understand that once we have lost them, they are gone forever.
So, the announcement of a free pass to these lands for military members and their families is no empty gesture. It recognizes the unique importance that those who served in war place on America's treasures, and I believe, shows a commitment to protecting these lands so they can continue to be enjoyed. And for that, we should all be thankful.