May 26, 2015

A Veteran Reflects On The One-Year Anniversary Of The Organ Mountains Desert Peaks National Monument

As I celebrate the one year anniversary of the designation of Organ Mountain-Desert Peaks I think back to my commitment to defend my country and the lands we love. When I enlisted in the U.S. Army, I vividly remembering that on Sundays I would go to mass, for many reasons; one to get away from the drill sergeants and two, to go to mass.  During the mass, we would sing different hymns but the Father would always have us sing America the Beautiful:

                                 O beautiful for spacious skies,

                           For amber waves of grain,

                           For purple mountain majesties

                           Above the fruited plain!

                           America!  America!

Even today, this hymn is important because there is something to be said about “spacious skies” and “purple mountain majesties”.  It is very difficult to find these things in built up urbanized areas; I would venture to say that you cannot.  Which leads me to my support of Organ Mountain-Desert Peaks National Monument and other protected public lands. 

In the Organ Mountain-Desert Peaks, you can see the “purple mountain majesties” with the oranges and pinks visible at sunset.  In Dripping Springs, the hike gives an outlook of the vast expanse of Las Cruces that these mountains give are the backdrop to.  It’s not just the hiking but also the mountain biking, the climbing, the horseback riding, the fishing that is preserved for the public to visit and use.  Has anybody seen the lava flows, or the petroglyphs, or the history-rich Kilbourne Hole? 

My support of public lands is not political nor is it about “federal land grab,” but rather it is about preserving what part of my service was about.  It is about the freedom for me to be able to go to public lands to camp, hike, fish, see historical landmarks, or pursue whatever I decided to do there.  It is about having the land for future generations to enjoy and learn the value of being outdoors and active.  It is about being able to slow down and listen to the silence and the sounds of nature.  Our public lands are a place of healing for many veterans I have spoken with, including myself. 

                           O beautiful for pilgrim feet

                           Whose stern impassioned stress

                           A thoroughfare of freedom beat

                           Across the wilderness!

                           America! America!

What it is not about is private enterprise acquiring these lands for the purpose of building shopping malls for the tax right offs, or for the exploration of fracking that will lead to the contamination of our water supply.  Don’t misunderstand me, I enjoy the low cost of energy and gas prices and people making a living, a good living at that. But I’m against risking the ruin of our public lands through poor management and the lack of care for these gifts we have, only to make a quick buck while squandering our heritage and the next generation’s legacy.

I served a total of 13 years in the Army; I was deployed to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003-2004.  Like many other veterans and service members, we made and still make sacrifices to maintain our freedoms.  We missed birthdays, anniversaries, birth of children, the passing of loved ones, and sometimes the greatest sacrifice: the lives given by our brothers and sisters in arms.  I willing did this in hopes that no other person would ever have to make the same sacrifice; this remains to be seen.  It was about serving our nation! 

                                  O beautiful for heroes proved

                           In liberating strife

                           Who more than self their country loved

                           And mercy more than life!

                           America!  America!

Just as I have pride for my service, I am proud to stand behind our President’s decision to use the Antiquities Act to designate Organ Mountain-Desert Peaks a national monument. I hope we preserve this tool for future presidents, regardless of their party affiliation to protect our national public land legacy.

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