By Airman 1st Class Roberto Guillen
Commentary: If not you, then who?
…A Growing Environmental Problem
5 seconds… What could you do in 5 seconds? You could tie your shoes, check your smartphone for a notification, or respond to a text. It also is the amount of time it takes the average person to properly dispose of their litter. On the other hand, it takes the average glass bottle 1 million years to decompose in the environment. 1 MILLION YEARS!
When I was growing up in California, I enjoyed the outdoors for as long as I can remember, from the hikes in the hills of Griffith Park to the walks along the coast of Venice Beach. I spent most of my childhood outside which is why I was so ecstatic when I arrived in Maryland for my first duty station. I could not wait to explore my new home.
As I did begin to explore, one particular area caught my eye. It was an unpaved path with a handwritten sign on an aged piece of wood reading out, “Archery Range”. I immediately thought of the compound bow I left back home and was eager to see the range before me.
As I made my way through the path I gazed at the landscape surrounding me. Bright eyed, I could see the war between spring and winter on the trees. I could hear an Oriole sing its song. As I continued my way through the path, I felt my shoe hit something.
I looked down to see a glass bottle tucked under some withered leaves. As I diverted my focus from the glass bottle, I then gazed at my foreground and was appalled at what I had seen.
Instead of the airy and green vegetation I could see in the trees, all I could see was a plot of land riddled in glass bottles and trash left from previous visitors. I saw so much potential.
California is a bullseye for natural disasters such as forest fires and earthquakes. What I saw in front of me was another type of disaster. This was man made. All it needed to be resolved was will power and effort. I take pride in my base and I knew something needed to be done. I decided to go around the area picking up the litter.
As I walked through thorns and brushes of this large acre of land, I managed to collect roughly 100 pounds of junk in the area. As I cleared one area, I brought my eyes in front and saw trails of more bottles. I found bags, water bottles, cans, but mostly glass bottles. I felt that no one else would’ve taken the time to pick it up. As if they thought that it was a lost cause or too overwhelming.
The only thing running through my mind was ‘If I don’t clean it up, who will?”. As famously said, "Be the change you wish to see in the world." So I kept working until all I could see was the palette of colors that belonged in the wild.
Finally finished. With sweat on my brow and blood on my arms from the thorns that lashed out as I reclaimed the waste, I was relieved and quite thrilled with the results of the range. All I could do was smile and bask at the fruits of my labor. And take a picture.
I’m happy I can now enjoy the scenery in which I so longed. That home away from home in the wild. With this in mind, I hope everyone decides that those 5 seconds it takes to throw away that trash, is well worth the beauty of nature.
(Editor’s note: AIC Guillen is assigned to the 32 Intelligence Squadron at Fort George G. Meade, MD.)