The Scars Within Us and the Landscape

Apr 22, 2018

April 22, 2018
By David Riera, Mission Continues volunteer

My experience in war-torn Iraq makes me reflect that the land under my feet this very moment in Miami is also embattled, and this time the mission to help it belongs to all of us.


When I was discharged from the Marine Corps, I had a collection of over 40 MRE (Meal, Ready-to-Eat) Tabasco sauce bottles filled with sand from every place I was deployed in Iraq. They reminded me of my bond to the places I would sooner forget.

As the CH-53 Super Stallion helicopter flew us to secure our first target in Iraq, I saw the landscape cracked and cratered. The sand was piled high to create 10-foot defensive burms. The lakes and streams were poisoned, littered with rotting carcasses. In that moment the price of conflict was grafted onto me.

That’s when I knew scorched earth operations did not just change the land – it changed me too. It was not just about the loss of human life on all sides. It was also about trying to survive in a place where our missions violated the environment every day.

Because the environment, like a warrior, carries its history upon its face.

The beaches of Normandy in France, Mount Suribachi in Iwo Jima, Hamburger Hill in south Vietnam, Maeda Escarpment in Okinawa, the Greater Burgan oil fields in Kuwait, the deserts of Iraq, and the mountain ranges of Afghanistan — all these landscapes remember those wars, and bear the scars too. They are forever transformed, just as are the brave men and women who fought in them.


After separating from the military I returned home to Miami, my bottles of sand in hand. As I transitioned back into civilian life I realized it was like a new battlefield. Miami is a sprawling metropolis where millions are trapped between swamp and sand in a fight against rising seas and violent storms. The Earth is in a war against climate change. And I’m Earth’s ally.

It is through my volunteer activity with the Miami 1st Service Platoon that I am engaging Earth’s enemies regularly. I now have new missions: restoring coastal habitats and reinforcing shoreline infrastructure, and improving environmental access and social justice for all.

The scars within me have lead me to discover something new. I can sense these scars heal as I tackle my new mission. It is through the rehabilitation of these landscapes, ecosystems, and habitats that I have found my inner peace. Each time I am surrounded by Mission Continues volunteers I feel a galvanization of thoughts and actions.

I have gone from surviving to living.


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