Essential to My Wellness Is My Mission to Protect National Parks
May 17, 2018
By Jason Kucinski, Platoon Leadership Team Member
Why Conservation is Important to Me
I grew up in the outdoors — the mountains, the woods, the lakes. I’ve had the privilege to see places most people look at on a postcard or in National Geographic. And even now, I spend every chance I get to hit the trails and hike (or as John Muir called it, “sauntering”).
I’m also a 14-year Air Force veteran. Like many veterans, I battle with those inner demons and have physical issues. Going hiking and spending time on the trail and in the National Parks is my outlet. If I stopped moving, I think I would hurt more.
It’s my version of Ecotherapy. If you haven’t heard of Ecotherapy, or know very little about it, let me explain. Ecotherapy is the name given to a wide range of treatment programs which aim to improve your mental and physical wellbeing through doing activities in nature. Connecting with nature in this way can have lots of positive health benefits, and is being used to help veterans.
How I’m #ReportingForDuty
As I counted my remaining days to leave Saudi Arabia and return to my home of Washington State and the great Pacific Northwest, I was presented an opportunity to take on the role of heading up the Seattle 2nd Service Platoon and National Park Service projects.
Excitedly, I said, “yes” without hesitation.
What better way to give back to the places you use and love, than to help protect, restore, and maintain those beautiful areas?
At The Mission Continues we are all about #ReportingForDuty. I hope to give you a better understanding of why this mission is so important. It is not just for us, but for our future generations.
I have a saying about when we leave the military, “You leave something you know, to come back to something you used to know.” We were all a part of team, we had a mission, and we were part of something bigger than ourselves. Many of us have a hard time adjusting back to civilian life, relating to civilians, and sometimes left wondering where we fit now.
That is where The Mission Continues comes in.
With The Mission Continues, I’m part of a team again of like-minded people. We connect, we serve in our community, and we help our fellow veterans. I’ve met some great people and make some great friends through The Mission Continues.
Additionally, we try to bridge that gap between civilians and veterans. We want them to understand that we are not broken and we are not that different than them.
In 2017 before I left for Saudi Arabia, I took part in a great service project at Lewis & Clark National Historic Park. We spent the weekend there planting spruce and shrubs to improve salmon habitat, what a blast! We got muddy, dirty, and wet and had a great time. Heck, the local paper even did a story on us.
After the project day was done, we grabbed dinner, some cold ones, and an untold number of hands playing Uno. That reminded me so much of still being in the service. Again, this is where many of us miss the camaraderie and sense of mission accomplishment.
Why the National Parks Need Our Help
I will put this in a nutshell for you: The National Park Service faces many challenges, exacerbated in part by years of underfunding. As of 2017, they have faced a $12 billion deferred maintenance backlog; reduced staffing that has made it harder for parks to handle record-breaking crowds and reductions in visitor services.
There has been more than a 7%, or $173 million reduction in the account to operate national parks and more than a 12%, or $364 million reduction in the total budget for the National Park Service over the last five years in today’s dollars.”
Additionally, “The Park Service’s deferred maintenance backlog has steadily been growing, now at $11.5 billion. Projects are continually added to the backlog in part due to insufficient operations funding to ensure needed day-to-day maintenance.
Staggering statistics isn’t it? This is where you and The Mission Continues fit in.
Continuing the Mission to Protect Public Lands
I look back at history and personal inspirations like John Muir, Teddy Roosevelt, Ansel Adams, and Edward Abbey just to name a few. They made it their mission to protect our public lands and continue to inspire people to this day to continue that mission.
Taken from an article I read:
Today, technology threatens to monopolize their attention. A life spent indoors in front of a screen doesn’t foster a conservation ethic, making it harder for a person to understand the negative impacts of human activity on the environment. Adults experience this disconnect as well, and this apathy leads to parks getting passed over, when it comes to both federal funding and family vacations. The National Park Service’s stated goal for its Centennial this year is to ‘connect with and create the next generation of park visitors, supporters, and advocates,’ and clearly this has never been more critical.
Now that I hung up my uniform after 14 years, my oath of enlistment hasn’t expired. The only thing that has changed is the mission; to protect and preserve the parks for future generations.
I hope that I can inspire and empower people to get outdoors and help continue to protect the lands that we have all fought for.
Report for duty in your community with The Mission Continues. Serve with a Service Platoon at an upcoming service event near you or apply for a fellowship. You can learn more about our programs on our website and stay updated on the latest news and announcements on Facebook and Twitter.