The war zone is a battleground of victory or defeat, life and death. But it is also a time when you are tested by loneliness and a desire to return home. While we were deployed we dreamed of returning back to our homes near the California desert. This is a peaceful and tranquil place. Its vastness calmed the soul.
The California desert was also the perfect antidote to the stresses - both physical and mental - of war. We could take long drives out into remote areas, and hunt or hike without seeing another soul.
Maybe that's why it seems fitting that this Memorial Day, veterans like us can do something to help other veterans - and help current military personnel who are on active duty.

We can make sure that California's wild desert lands are protected for them to enjoy and to help them readjust back to civilian life. For many vets, the best way to acclimate to life after military service was to take those peaceful drives and walks into the desert.

In honor of our military brothers and sisters, we can write our local congressional representatives to support Sen. Dianne Feinstein's California Desert Protection Act of 2010. This legislation is a unique chance to preserve our desert, give a boost to our local tourism and make sure that renewable energy is done responsibly.

You often don't appreciate something like the Mojave Desert, until you are far from it. That's what happened to us while we were deployed in Iraq. We had taken or granted the simple joy of being able to go out into this incredible place and enjoy its panoramic dawns and sunsets, and feel those powerful desert winds blowing across our faces.

For us desert denizens who served in the Persian Gulf, Afghanistan and Iraq, it was eerie to be deployed in another desert, on the other side of the world, thousands of miles from our loved ones. From the sand dunes of Iraq and Kuwait, to the high desert plateaus of Afghanistan - these places made us reminisce about our own California desert back home - yet we knew weren't anywhere close to home.

Today as veterans, we often remember what it was like to be on the front lines, when thoughts of returning safe to the States are what kept our spirits up. Our morale was boosted when we focused on what really matters most in this world: home and family.

We dreamed of the day when we could relax with our families and buddies out in our own desert.
If we protect the California desert now, we can help our current service men and women who are dreaming about the day when they can come home. Let's keep their desert dreams alive.


Jonathan Ervin is a member of the Vet Voice Foundation, a nonpartisan, not-for-profit 501(c)3 that is working to educate and mobilize veterans in Southern California on the importance of protecting their desert homeland. He is a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom where he served in the U.S. Air Force; during the initial invasion of Iraq he served in a military intelligence unit that provided support for combat air operations in the theater. He lives with his family in Lancaster.