Garett Reppenhagen, Rocky Mountain West Coordinator of the Vet Voice Foundation
This week veterans all over the nation applaud President Obama’s use of the Antiquities Act to protect the Organ Mountains Desert Peaks region in Southern NM. Creating this new national monument ensures the preservation of a scenic public landscape rich with history, recreational opportunities and wildlife habitat. Included in the protected area are six of the historical Deming Bombing targets used by the Army Air corps for training missions during World War II. These “bulls-eye” targets were used to test equipment that greatly improved the accuracy of high-altitude bombing for U.S. warplanes, and were a major factor in ending World War II in Europe.
Today the sites are an important window into our nation’s past. The new Organ Mountains Desert Peaks National Monument ensures their protection, and that future generations will remember the sacrifices made by our men and women in the military who served here and better understand the history of our country.
Protected public lands like the Organ Mountains Desert Peaks National Monument also serve as a great healing aid for soldiers returning home, who suffer from debilitating conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder, brain injuries, trauma, anxiety and depression. So many men and women, who have fought bravely for our independence, make great sacrifices and often pay a steep price. In fact, almost 40% of veterans who have served in Iraq are diagnosed with a mental health issue. Places of natural beauty are perfect locales for fighting pain and mental stresses, and this has been borne out by scientific studies.
The natural setting of phenomenal scenery, wildlife habitat for a fabulous array of birds and mammals, and many opportunities for outdoor recreation, makes the Organ Mountains Desert Peaks a wonderful place where veterans with PTSD symptoms can experience a temporary sanctuary — free of stresses and uncertainties, a place with no worries where they can relax, enjoy themselves and their surroundings. Men and women, who deal with chronic pain or horrific flashbacks every day, can find a peace they haven’t known for a long time. In my own transition from being a U.S. Army sniper to civilian life, access to public lands helped me tremendously to navigate the way back.
But healing outdoor opportunities like those provided in the Organ Mountains Desert Peaks may not survive unless we work to protect them. And it appears we must work hard. Earlier in the year, House Republicans took aim to curtail the President’s ability to protect our nation’s rich military and cultural heritage and limit his ability to use the Antiquities Act to conserve national parks and monuments. I do not understand this. Conservation — like support for military budgets, veterans’ benefits, and other critical issues – should never be a partisan affair.
The Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks is the crossroads of New Mexico’s diverse history and culture, filled with natural wonders and incredible hunting and recreational opportunities. Veterans across America thank New Mexico Senators Udall and Heinrich for introducing legislation to help call attention to this wondrous land, and Interior Secretary Sally Jewell for taking the time to visit the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks region and listening to the input of Las Cruces area veterans. Above all we are grateful for President Obama’s leadership in working with a wide variety of communities and constituents who wanted so much to see this place they love protected.