About the Author

Martin LeBlanc is a leading voice in the movement to reconnect children and nature. For 10 years, Martin was with the Sierra Club, most recently as the National Youth and Outings Director, in which he introduced over 200,000 children to the outdoors and established non-traditional alliances with the military, educational groups and health organizations. He was recently appointed Senior Vice President at IslandWood. A founding Board Member of the Children & Nature Network, Martin now serves as an advisor to C&NN's Natural Leaders Initiative. Martin lives with his wife and young daughter in Seattle.

Natural Military Families

Note: This piece coincides with the April 12 announcement of First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden’s Veterans and Military Families Initiative, in partnership with the Sierra Club, YMCA, and National Military Family Association.

The positive effects that nature can have on our military community can help give them strength and relief in a time of great stress while a family member is deployed. I have seen first-hand the smile on a child’s face who has lost a parent in combat but is now surrounded by children swimming in a lagoon, who have gone through the same situation at an Operation Purple Camp run by our partner the National Military Family Association on Catalina Island off the coast of Southern California. Nature has a healing impact on many of us but for the military community it can give them time to reflect, heal and most importantly for children have fun and forget about the daily struggle.

I am proud to come from a military family. My father and grandfather served, my Pepere (Grandfather for us French-Canadians) served as a marine in the Pacific Theater in World War II and my father attended the Air Force Academy and was a Captain who taught survival school. Early on I saw that the words service and honor were more then that, they were values that were instilled into me. It has been both an inspiring and humbling experience to work with military families and veterans over the past five years and to empower them to have outdoor opportunities to reconnect to each other, their community and to have a special place that nature can give to all of us.

Over a million men and women have served in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars since 2001. Along with the honorable service so many men and women have given our country, their families are picking up at home and providing such amazing service to their communities. Military families don’t ever feel bad about their situation, they just step up and work to keep things moving forward, there is no “I” in military families. Military families are the backbone of America and I have seen how the outdoors can help give them the energy to keep striving.

Rich Louv, a friend, mentor and author of Last Child in the Woods: Saving our children from Nature-Deficit Disorder has written, that “Progress does not have to be patented to be worthwhile. Progress can also be measured by our interactions with nature and its preservation. Can we teach children to look at a flower and see all the things it represents: beauty, the health of an ecosystem, and the potential for healing? The healing aspect of nature is what I have seen the military community benefit most from outdoor experiences. In my role at the Sierra Club we have helped facilitate over 25,000 military families getting outside since 2007 working with partners like the National Military Family Association, the YMCA of America and Outward Bound. We feel it is our way of supporting a community that has given all of us so much. For me it has reconnected me to the important benefits that families get when a father and a son who have been apart for a year while he is on deployment get a chance to go fishing together at a National Military Family Association Family Camp in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.  Nature has a special way of connecting us to each other and to our land.

The United States is blessed with so much natural beauty from the Rocky Mountains to the Everglades, our land is as diverse as its people.  The natural world can play an important role in helping support the military community and I am energized by seeing First lady Michelle Obama and Jill Biden working so hard to promote the support of military families. The outdoors can and must play a leading role in giving the military community a connection and perspective to the land they work so hard to defend. Our homeland is a frontier full of wonder and as former President Teddy Roosevelt and a war hero said so well “It is an incalculable added pleasure to any one’s sum of happiness if he or she grows to know, even slightly and imperfectly, how to read and enjoy the wonder-book of nature.” We must all come together to keep the wonder book of nature open to the entire military community to thank them and support them for their service to our country.

Note: This column originally ran in the North Face‘s Planet Explore.

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