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Your Newest National Monument: Ft. Ord

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It's been a rough year for bi-partisan cooperation. There's something to be said about how the lack of unity at all levels of government has an effect on our ability to maintain a strong foreign policy for the defense of our nation. However, on Friday, in a small, but hopeful display of bi-partisanship, President Obama created the nation's newest national monument, Fort Ord National Monument in California.

Over the years more than 1.5 million soldiers have served at Fort Ord, training for American conflicts from the World War I to the end of the Cold War. It was a leading training center and staging ground for deployment to Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War and housed the last stand of U.S. Army war horses. The base officially closed in 1994 and has since become a major recreation destination, receiving nearly 100,000 visitors a year. Invoking the 1906 Antiquities Act, Obama has both preserved a large piece of our military heritage, while also securing 7,200 acres of public recreation space ensuring that there are amazing places for our service members to explore and enjoy the land they defend. The lands of Fort Ord represent some of the last remaining open space in the Monterey Bay Area and are home to miles to trails and many rare plants and wildlife. Why is this important?

In a nation where so few Americans are directly connected to the military experience, the creation of Fort Ord National Monument, and the establishment earlier this year of the Ft. Monroe National Monument, a former Army post in Virginia with history dating back to the Civil War, gives another point of entry into our rich and proud military history. After all, Fort Ord is where both Jerry Garcia and Clint Eastwood completed basic training. Visitors to the new monument will gain insight into the triumphs and sacrifices that have shaped the United States and a connection to one of our country's special landscapes.

Nikolas Kristof, in a New York Times op-ed from April 14, stated that, "Presidents commit troops to distant battlefields, but don't commit enough dollars to veterans' services afterward." Viewed from the perspective that providing easily accessible outdoor recreational opportunities is, as I have argued in this space before, one of the best ways to ensure community reintegration and improved mental and emotional health for veterans -- this is the type of investment that Kristof has called for.

Consider that it is next door to both a VA Clinic and the Naval Post-Graduate Institute. If managed correctly, it could become a model of outdoor recreation and cooperation for the Department of Defense, Department of Interior, and Department of Veterans Affairs. Am I dreaming? Perhaps, but it's a step in the right direction.

Hope to see you on a trail, and hope that trail is out at Ft. Ord National Monument, soon!

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