Looking out over the rolling green hills and the lush trees of Arlington National Cemetery, you would almost think you are in a beautiful park, except for the stark white headstones dotting the landscape.
It was in this special setting Monday that 400 volunteers from the National Association of Landscape Professionals set to work for the 20th year to care for the landscaping that creates a peaceful setting for our nation’s fallen heroes and the more than 4 million visitors that come here annually.
“We deeply appreciate the opportunity to work on these hallowed grounds,” says John Eggelston, NALP’s chairman of this year’s Renewal and Remembrance event.
Katharine Kelley, acting superintendent of the cemetery, said this landscape provides a serene place for families and loved ones to mourn those they have lost. “It’s our honor and privilege to maintain the facility,” she says of the 624 acres and thanking the volunteers for their time.
Before the work got underway Monday, Brett Lemcke, NALP president, addressed the volunteers, pointing out the importance of the children’s program in particular. He said it’s important landscapers’ and lawn care professionals’ children learn about the purpose of giving back.
“You’re seeing lawn and landscape professionals who are here today and know this is a profession you can grow in,” Lemcke says.
Phil Fogarty of Weed Man said this is how members of NALP and the green industry can show gratitude for all they have, and all our servicemen and women have given to their country.
“We pay tribute here today with the tools of our trade,” Fogarty says. “Our work today is our way of saying we remember those who served… and they sacrifices they made.”
Working on the grounds
Pablo Mejia of Sunrise Landscape & Design in Sterling, Virginia, helped his colleagues renew a hardscape project near the site’s amphitheater.
“We want to donate to our troops,” Mejia says. “We want to give something back to them, and it makes us feel good, too.”
Several acres away near the newer sections of Arlington Cemetery, John Janes of Caterpillar Inc., drove between work sites on a UTV as a leader of the safety team. A U.S. Army veteran who served in Afghanistan and Iraq, Janes says: “I came back in one piece and everyone here did not. So we come here one day a year to give back.”
Brian Bruno, of Blades of Green in Edgewater, Maryland, has been coming to Renewal and Remembrance for four years. He served in the U.S. Navy and was on the honor guard at Arlington, serving at 1,500 funerals in two years. Three of his colleagues — Dan Smalt, Tom Green and Sean Novias — are all veterans.
“It’s just an honor,” Bruno says about volunteering.
“Anybody interred here is a hero,” Green added.
A special side event of the work done on the grounds is the children’s program, including meeting a caisson horse and watching the dedication of a wreath from the NALP at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The children follow this up by planting ornamentals nearby, as well as laying flowers at some gravestones.
Tree care is also done, namely lightning arresting to help direct lightning down to the ground so it won’t harm the trees. Tommy Tucker of The Care of Trees in Dulles, Virginia, worked with Mark Speils, aloft in the tree, to secure the copper cable to older trees near the amphitheater.
“Here, if a tree falls it damages more than the tree,” Tucker says, gesturing to the centuries old headstones in one of the older areas of the cemetery.
Teamwork for a cause
No matter what company the landscapers and lawn care professionals worked with, everyone came together Monday to service the special grounds and honor those lost.
Bill Rausch, executive director of Got Your 6 and former U.S. Army major who served in Iraq, said that teamwork is in keeping with what Arlington is all about.
“Everyone who has been laid to rest here believed in partnerships,” Rausch says.
When working with veterans in his organization, Rausch said it’s important to give veterans a sense of purpose. And today, the NALP volunteers knew their purpose was to give back to those who sacrificed all.
“Be proud of your work today,” Rausch says.