By Representative Andrew Learned, House District 59
As a native Floridian, Navy Veteran, and now, Representative, I believe protecting our freedom and protecting our public lands and waters goes hand-in-hand. Part of public service is preserving our environmental resources so that our children and the children of Floridians across this state can enjoy our outdoor spaces.
I was born in Sarasota; I grew up enjoying the ocean and the numerous state and local public parks there. Being outside with my family and friends taught me about the natural world and I learned to appreciate how important it is to have accessible clean air and water.
As I grew older, time to get outside in open spaces and fresh air became a critical way for me to unwind and relax – an opportunity to clear my mind.
For four years, I served active duty as a Surface Warfare Officer with the U.S. Navy. The work I did with counter piracy was important and helped keep Americans safe. While on duty in Bahrain, I remember buying my first racing bike. This became my key to exploring my environment while I was deployed. The times I spent on my bike, wind on my face and sun on my back, helped me prioritize my mental and physical health and made me better at my job.
Today, I continue to serve as a member of the U.S. Navy Reserves. During my weekends at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, I relish the chance to take my bike out on base or rent a kayak and explore the coastal wetlands nearby. Military bases, like MacDill, often have some of the best protected habitats for local endangered species. Programs around the nation have advanced the protection of military land buffers (protected lands around military bases) and are an excellent example of cooperation between the military, other levels of government, and conservation partners.
Having protected areas on and around military bases makes our beautiful, natural environment more accessible to our active duty military and members of the Reserves like myself. For me, the chance to walk along Bayshore Boulevard or Riverwalk in Tampa Bay reminds me how connected we are with our environment and how we must all be in the fight to protect it.
That is one of the reasons why I’m so excited to advocate for more public lands as a newly elected member of the Florida House, District 59. I am committed to ensuring that all Floridians have access to outdoor spaces for generations to come. I will fight for all Floridians’ right to have clean water to drink and clean air to breathe. I will work to preserve places for our children to run, bike, swim, and fish here in our communities. Just as important, our Veterans deserve places to experience the beauty and serenity of our natural environment. They fought for our freedom as Americans. It is our duty to support them when they return and give them every opportunity to live happy and productive lives. Our public lands are part of this.
Today, on Veterans Day, I encourage you to get outside. Take the time to thank a Veteran for his or her service. If you’re so inclined, invite them for a walk in your local park and share that time in nature together.