Military veterans show support for national monument proposal

Las Cruces Sun-News
Steve Ramirez / Las Cruces Sun-News

Tony Cano, a New Mexico State University history major, wants the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument to become a reality.

So does Bernie Digman and Peter Ossorio, who with Cano, are all Las Cruces military veterans.

“I know this place,” said Cano, a Tularosa native, as he stood Wednesday in the campground of the Aguirre Spring Recreation Area, managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. “These mountains are significant because they mean home to me. I want to see this place preserved for my children and, some day, for my children’s children. I just don’t want to see these lands fall by the wayside.”

Cano, president of the NMSU students veterans association, along with several other southern New Mexico veterans toured landmarks Wednesday of the proposed monument. They trekked across the Organs, visited the site of a World War II aerial target range in the Sierra de las Uvas and stopped at a location where the historic Butterfield Stagecoach Trail once passed. After lunch at Aguirre Spring, the veterans spoke of the importance of having protected mountains and open space to recreate and provide a sanctuary.

Military veteran and local historian Jack Soules speaks Wednesday at Aguirre Spring to other veterans gathered in support of the Organ Mountains becoming a national monument. (Robin Zielinski/Sun-News)

“Veterans, more than most, recognize that when our sons and daughters are fighting overseas, they’re fighting for so much more than our freedoms,” said Ossorio, a Vietnam veteran. “They are also fighting for our land and our nation’s sacred places.

“To southern New Mexicans, the craggy peaks of the Organ Mountains and its surrounding
desert is one such sacred place. In fact, I would say protecting our public lands heritage is one of the most patriotic things we could do.”

Last week, a coalition of southern New Mexico businesses, sportsmen, faith-based organizations, conservation groups and community leaders pledged they would urge President Obama to formally designate the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks as a national monument. Public support for the designation has grown to include some veterans.

“As veterans, we are committed to serving beyond the time when we were in uniform,” Digman said. “Serving our country is about so much more than our time in the military. It’s about what we do when we take that uniform off. For me, that means fighting to protect public lands so that my kids and grandkids can enjoy the wonders of nature that I enjoyed as a boy.”

The tour was organized by southern New Mexico veterans and the Vet Voice Foundation, a national organization that mobilizes veterans to become leaders in their communities on important issues.

Cano said the sites visited Wednesday only reaffirmed his belief that there are many “hidden treasures” throughout southern New Mexico that need to be preserved for future generations.

Veterans support

  • Several southern New Mexico military veterans toured various landmarks Wednesday of the proposed Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument.
  • The tour included: the Organ Mountains, a World War II aerial target range in the Sierra de las Uvas and the historic Butterfield Stagecoach Trail.
  • The veterans toured the proposed monument in support of efforts to have it designated as a national monument.
  • Supporters of the proposed monument have petitioned President Obama to formally designate the monument.