This weekend, a dozen active and veteran soldiers will join a dozen Sierra Club volunteers for a retreat at IslandWood, the environmental mecca on Bainbridge Island. At first blush, it would appear an "Odd Couple"- type meeting; the military tends to run conservative, enviros liberal. But the Sierra Club has for several years been courting soldiers and veterans.
Bare recognizes that there are what he calls "cultural barriers" to that goal. But he says that what many people don't realize is that the environmental movement got its start with the help of the military community. Sierra Club's first executive director, David Brower, was a World War II veteran. Like Brower, several early leaders of the environmental movement had served in the 10th Mountain Division, fighting the Nazis in the Alps of northern Italy.
What's more, Brower says, "100 years ago At Yellowstone and Yosemite, a number of active duty soldiers served as park rangers." (See Yellowstone Park Foundation's website, which acknowledged the "roots in the military" of the park ranger profession.)
Bare says he knows first-hand that the outdoors can be a therapeutic experience for returning soldiers. He says he struggled with depression, PTSD and thoughts of suicide when he got back from Iraq in 2007. Then he and another vet took to rock climbing and other outdoor pursuits.
"The outdoors gave me an opportunity to just be," Bare says. "It doesn't judge you, or ask any questions."
He says it also can offer a sense of "mission"--climbing a mountain, say--that veterans yearn for after the adrenaline rush of war. If they have a handicap they have to overcome, so much the better, Bare says. With the help of adaptive equipment, like ice axes that attach directly to amputate arms, "you can still be a strong person."
Last fall, on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, Bare and a group of veterans climbed the Grand Teton mountains. "One guy didn't have a leg, one didn't have an arm," he says. (Pictured above, the guy without a leg; below, a video of the climb, which culminated at the very minute that the last plane hit the World Trade Towers.)
This weekend's event at IslandWood came about after the environmental center approached the Sierra Club, wanting to serve as a resource for the community around Joint Base Lewis-McChord.