Sierra Club Military Families Outdoors rep Stacy Bare and a group of veterans at the summit of Grand Teton.
“When you’re outside, you can just focus on what’s around you. You’re reminded - this is America, this is what I fought for.”
Those are words Stacy Bare uses frequently in a History Channel video. The Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran wants to make sure everyone knows what the outdoors can mean for all veterans and their families.
“Not every veteran has post-traumatic stress, but I think every veteran and military family does have stress relating to deployments and the day to day realities of being a service member, or married to/dating a service member, or having a service member as a parent,” says Stacy, the Military Families and Veterans Representative for the Sierra Club.
“The outdoors is a great place to maybe not make sense of it all, but at least to live in the moment and not spend time dwelling on what happened in the past, or fearing for what may happen in the future. It’s a great leveler and outdoors does not care if you are a veteran or not. That’s nice sometimes.”
Stacy knows this first-hand. He struggled when he returned from a two-year tour in Iraq, and it was being outdoors that pulled him out of it all:
I more or less became a cliché of drugs, heavy drinking, suicidal thoughts, and extreme depression, mood swings, and from what I can remember, violence. A buddy I was with in Iraq convinced me to do something about it. We went rock climbing on the First Flatiron in Boulder, Colorado; and rock climbing forced me into the present. I was not able to think about what I was missing, my guilt and shame from coming home after a year, the drugs, the booze. And it got me out of my head and into my body.
I used to weigh close in on 300 pounds, could literally run through a wall, and on my rappel off that climb, I’ve never been so scared, and it’s not that bad of a rappel, but two years of denial hit me all at once.
Stacy is now an avid rock climber, fly fisher, hiker, you name it. And since that first climb, he’s been working on getting more veterans outdoors, co-founding Veterans Expeditions with friend and fellow veteran Nick Watson, and ultimately working for the Sierra Club’s Mission Outdoors programs. Stacy says:
The Sierra Club’s outings, national outings, and inner city outings have the potential to be, and are becoming, one of the greatest resources for our military family and veteran community.Stacy encourages everyone to get involved with helping veterans and their families, and touts the Mission Outdoors tag line proudly: “Ensuring America’s military service men and women enjoy the freedom of the land they defended.”
The outdoors is combination of many things for veterans. On the one hand, it’s the peace and tranquility of an early morning sunrise on a mountain peak, it’s the physical exertion to get to the top of the mountain, it’s the adrenalin rush of a wild backcountry ski day in steep and deep powder, a bomber mountain bike run, a trout hitting your fly...I could keep going. The point is: There’s something for everyone outdoors and it’s well away from our everyday stresses and concerns, and allows us to live in the moment.
For those who want to help, Stacy has some tips, in his own words.
- Learn about the military. Learn the difference between an E4 and an O4, AWOL, OIF, OEF, QVC, and Operation Anaconda.
- Find a way to get involved locally. Get your local Sierra Club chapter or outings group to reach out to the nearby Warrior Transition Unit (WTU), Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of American, or Fisher House and take them on an outing. Give your time. And if our organization isn’t where you want to volunteer, find an organization that is working with veterans and help out. There’s a huge list, start with WarriorGateway.org, or Challenge America to find something you’re interested in. Many of our partners websites are listed at www.sierraclub.org/military.
- Don’t be afraid to talk to us, we’re just like you.
- Don’t pity us, we chose to join the military, but please do choose to give us a positive challenge and a hand up, not a hand out.
- And of course, if you don’t have time, but do have money, our programs do a lot of great work and exist because of the support of many good people.
Stacy’s goal is to make opportunities for military service members, veterans, and their families as widely available as possible and, perhaps more importantly, to transition the leadership and teamwork skills of our fighting forces to the outdoors.
“I want to see our veterans be the new leaders in America, and I see that starting first in the outdoors. I want to see our veterans taking care of each other and our military and nation recognizing the investment in the outdoors is an investment in the health and well-being of our service members."