After marching through more than 30 cities and towns in 12 states and the District of Columbia, the southern bus of the Veterans for American Power Tour criss-crossed the Sunshine State this weekend to convince people that America will be more secure by switching to a clean energy economy.
Our first stop was in the American Legion Hall Post 6 in Deland, FL. In a room appointed with military memorabilia and a wall-mounted M16, the vets mingled with fellow veterans of wars dating back to World War II.
Many in the room agreed with their message: we need to find other sources of clean energy here at home to keep American armed service members from having to deploy and fight in wars over oil and other energy sources. It's the best way to avoid future conflicts fueled by the increasing threats of climate change.
After ordering a takeout lunch, the vets boarded their navy blue bus and headed to the sprawling campus of the University of South Florida in Orlando. The veterans were invited to speak at the Florida Power Shift Summit, a conference sponsored by the Energy Action Coalition to reach out to youths and students and help fight against climate change.
"I'm here to tell you all this is a serious national security threat," Iraq War veteran Nick Breeze told the mostly college student audience. "I saw with my own eyes why it's important for us to get off oil and develop energy sources here in America that will make our county stronger and more secure."
Navy vet Ashkan Abayatpour echoed those sentiments to the audience. "The military takes the threat of climate disruption seriously. We can't ignore it any longer. I encourage you all to talk to your representatives and get them to take action now to make us more energy independent. Our country and our service members are depending on it."
After the veterans filed off the stage, they posed for pictures with a few volunteers and then were back on the highway to Tampa, their final destination of the two week tour. The balmy breezes of this Gulf coast city were a welcome respite from the bumpy cross-country tour. After days of feeding on meatball subs and chicken tenders, we treated ourselves to a steak and lobster dinner to celebrate our long journey's end.
But there still was work to do. After a good night's sleep, we loaded up the bus one last time and rumbled off to the last stop at the Tampa Mariners Memorial and Museum.
The veterans were given a tour of the WWII merchant marine ship USS American Victory, one of many that provided crucial supplies for troops overseas. As we gazed out at the harbor from the decks of the old supply ship, the blue waters of the Gulf provided a stark contrast to the fall colors of the midwest where the tour began two weeks earlier.
"We signed up to serve our country and we've traveled a long way to talk to the American people," said Rafael Noboa, an Army vet who joined the trip 12 days earlier in St. Louis. "This is just an extension of that service. And it's our most important mission yet."
After one last local television news interview, the team members of the Veterans for American Power Tour boarded their trusty blue transport for the final leg to the Tampa airport. We realized it was just the beginning of a long battle ahead. It would not be an easy fight to earn the hearts and minds of those who insist on maintaining the status quo.
But the vets had spread their message about the national security threats associated with climate change to citizens in cities and towns across the country. And the president himself had acknowledged their efforts on national television.
As we grabbed our bags and entered the busy Tampa airport terminal, we suspected we would see each other again. In a way, we knew it was a tour that would never end.