Our nation’s new secretary of the interior, Ryan Zinke, is a man who is up for the job. It’s not going to be easy, but I have confidence that Zinke can take it — physically and mentally.

Zinke was — and will always be — a U.S. Navy SEAL. I was part of a special U.S. Navy rapid deployment expeditionary combat logistics group that supported SEALs and military branch operations overseas, so I know what those guys go through, and the intensity of the situations they experience.

Navy SEALs go through intense training so that they can effectively conduct operations in sea, air or land — that’s how the name came to be. During training, a person’s endurance isn’t the only thing on trial. Their ability to work as part of a team and to demonstrate leadership is also put to the test.

Our nation will need Zinke to demonstrate those leadership skills when it comes to protecting our public lands and waters.

Veterans who have experienced combat and continue to struggle with the aftermath are drawn to the West’s peaceful and inspiring landscapes and rivers. My nonprofit, Soul River Inc., pairs veterans with inner-city youth on outdoor adventures. Both generations are given the time and space to heal their souls. We explore the same public lands around which Zinke grew up and went to college. He understands, like we do, why the West is blessed.

Zinke has picked a great role model for his work at Interior: President Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt signed the Antiquities Act into law in 1906 to address in part the desecration of American Indian sites in the Southwest. Using that power granted to presidents to protect culturally and naturally significant lands, Roosevelt himself established a range of national monuments, including Utah’s Natural Bridges in 1908. Fast forward a century later, that small monument is now embraced by a larger protected area known as the Bears Ears National Monument.

Since Bears Ears is managed in part by the Bureau of Land Management, which is under the Interior Department’s jurisdiction, Zinke promised to visit the new monument soon after being confirmed secretary. I am glad that Zinke wants to spend time in the West visiting special places, but I am concerned that some in Utah are lobbying him to shrink or remove protections for this sensitive area. I have confidence that he will see the value in protecting this sacred and majestic area from harm.

While people in the military are trained to be prepared for battle, dismantling Bears Ears National Monument is a fight that can and should be avoided.

I proudly served to protect my country, and our nation’s public lands are part of what makes the U.S. special and worth fighting for. When I took my oath upon joining the U.S. Navy, like everyone else who served, I swore to “obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me.” I respect presidential authority not only when it comes to military matters, but also when it comes to decisions made to preserve our nation’s natural and cultural history here at home through the Antiquities Act. Today I am a U.S veteran and I stand for our public lands. My service is to honor and defend Bears Ears National Monument and other monuments designated by past presidents, for future generations.

I hope that Zinke will not only keep existing national monuments on the books, but start conditioning his heart and soul to identify new places worthy of conservation through the Antiquities Act. As survivors of war, combat veterans like me need to be embedded in our peaceful public lands.

Chad Brown is a U.S. Navy veteran who saw combat in Operation Desert Storm and Operation Desert Shield in the Gulf, and Operation Restore Hope in Somalia. He is now serving other veterans and at-risk youth through his nonprofit Soul River Runs Wild.

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