Two Military Veterans Reflect on Friendship, Public Lands, and Service to Country
Lynn Ewing lives in Wisconsin and Joan Pamperien lives in Colorado. They both enjoy hiking, biking, and skiing on public lands across the nation.
The air tingled on our cheeks as the snow crunched beneath our feet. We were hiking on the Creekside Trail at the Experimental Forest outside Fraser, Colorado after an early November snowstorm. We had hoped to see some wildlife, but all we saw were tracks in the snow. Perhaps that was because we were making too much noise talking and laughing, recounting stories from 35 years ago when we were roommates and young lieutenants, who had just been assigned to serve in the 293rd Engineer Battalion (Combat Heavy) on the U.S. Army base in Baumholder, Germany.
Back in the late 1980s, we were among the first women to serve in leadership positions in engineer combat heavy units, and no women were allowed in engineer combat units. We definitely felt that many of the men we commanded didn’t want us there. We had both been trained as engineers, but nothing in college prepared us for the challenges we faced.
Still, despite those challenges — or maybe because of them — we developed a close friendship and enjoyed exploring the German countryside together. We chose to live in an apartment off base — partly to get away from the work stresses — but also to get to know the German people. We were proud to represent our country and felt welcomed by the community. Lynn had been raised in a close-knit town in South Dakota while Joan had been raised in a large family in Pittsburgh. Service to community and country had been important values instilled in us from an early age.
After we left the military, we both continued that service to country by working for the Army Corps of Engineers. Among other projects, Lynn worked on restoring watersheds in the Chicago region while Joan worked on cleaning up hazardous areas, including Superfund sites, all along the East Coast and Midwest. We both had grown up with a deep appreciation for the vast public lands and waters available to Americans and it felt good to help steward these places for future generations.
Over the years, we both were busy with raising our families and pursuing our careers so we didn’t see each other often. Earlier this year, Lynn suggested a Veterans Day weekend reunion in Colorado, which is how we found ourselves tramping in the forest snow. It was amazing how all those years melted away as we explored the beautiful Colorado landscape. After updating each other on the lives of our children and our plans for retirement, we discovered that we both had similar goals: to continue to give back to the country that has given us so much. And to continue exploring the beautiful public lands that provide solace and inspiration for so many military veterans.
We’d love to hear about the public lands you love! If you’re interested in writing a love note, please email us at OurPublicLands@nwf.org for guidelines. If you submit your entry before November 15th, you’ll be entered in a drawing to win one of two hoodies from Anetik.