For the 23rd year in a row, the National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP) held their Renewal & Remembrance event at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C.
Hundreds of landscapers from across the country gathered on these hallowed grounds to perform acts of service such as aeration, fertilization, irrigation installation and repair, mowing, liming, tree work, flower planting, hardscaping and more.
The 624 acres of Arlington National Cemetery are home to over 400,000 American military members and their loved ones, and between 25 and 30 service members and their families are buried in this space each day.
Green industry professionals were welcomed to the event in the opening ceremony and were thanked for taking time to come and connect with the rich history that surrounds Arlington National Cemetery.
“I must say, for a first generation American, the concept of speaking here is almost too big for me to grasp,” says Frank Mariani, NALP Foundation president and owner of Mariani Landscape. “I wish every single American, every parent would bring their children, walk these hills and valleys and look at all the things that have happened and all the history you can learn about as you walk. I think the world would be a better place if people took the time to spend time here.”
Serving as the keynote speaker for the opening ceremony, retired Colonel Andrea Stahl thanked green industry professionals for dedicating their time and service to a cause that is near and dear to her heart.
“Arlington National Cemetery is sacred ground, not only for those in the military, but for all Americans,” she says. “As a soldier, your efforts touch my heart. I think that the concept of service is an important one. Typically, we think of the concept of service as belonging to groups like the Army, Navy, firefighters or police officers, but today, I thank you for your service. Your actions here today expand that definition of service and provide an example of an even greater type of service: the service of a citizen to its nation.”
What it means to them
Volunteers from all over the nation gave their time and effort to attend this year’s Renewal & Remembrance, and many participating have a background in the military, which makes the event even more significant to them.
Like father, like son
Anthony Navia, retried first Lieutenant, U.S. Army engineer officer and John Deere business analyst, participated in the event for the first time this year and was excited to be part of such a monumental occasion.
“This event is about showing our appreciation to the service members that have served this great nation since its founding, but it’s also an opportunity to teach the folks that come right behind us, our youth, and show them the importance of volunteerism,” says Navia. “The big thing is, being a volunteer and also helping out within the community is a great teachable moment. An event like this really shows our youth, more than anything else, the value of giving back and serving.”
Navia says that anyone attending will be able to take away something inspirational and moving from the event, but for veterans and active military members, the trip to Arlington impacts them on a different kind of level.
“I think everyone has a different life experience and being a soldier certainly gives me a different perspective on how I see this event because of my serving in the military,” he says. “For me, I had my reasons for joining, but I think one of the things that happens is after being a military member, we get this big sense of brotherhood. And each one of the soldiers we serve with and even those that we don’t serve with are part of our family, and for me, I think that’s the big thing. Participating at the event is recognizing our family members.”
After the recent passing of his father, who was also a veteran, Navia says this event was a way to not only pay his respects to his fellow service members, but also to pay respects to his father.
“For me, personally, I think that this is a way to honor his memory,” says Navia. “And also, to go ahead and recognize all of the soldiers that passed away. I’m proud of my father having served, but I’m also proud of all the soldiers and everyone that goes through the process, whether that be friends, family or the people that maintain the grounds.”
Manuel Arino, Major in the California National Guard and John Deere region manager, has participated in Renewal & Remembrance three times, and each year he gains more respect and admiration for the event. He’s even had the opportunity to bring his children along for the trip and instill in them the importance of giving back to their nation in this manner.
“You know, you could spend your time out on the beach and doing a lot of frivolous things, or you could spend your time volunteering, making this place more beautiful for the people who actually give you the freedom to do those other things” he says. “It’s fun, it’s relaxing and it lets you think about other things other than yourself. You get a lot of time to reflect on other things and make the place more beautiful. You can be a part of the legacy that is Arlington.”
For Arino, his favorite part of participating in Renewal & Remembrance each year is when he has the chance to stop and talk to families visiting the graves.
“No two stories are the same,” he says. “You get everything from a person who has retired and passed to the young fellows that were a lot less lucky. Talking and getting to know every single story is my favorite part. It’s fascinating to hear their stories.”
Both Navia and Arino agree that the unity and camaraderie that is shown during the event makes the whole thing come together like a well-oiled machine, and it helps boost unity within the green industry as a whole.
“This is unity and commitment to a higher calling and a higher purpose,” says Arino. “When the landscape community comes together to do something like this, it shows what America is all about and our identity together.”
Desert Storm veteran Dan Smalt with Blades of Green in Edgewater, Maryland, brought with him an assortment of coins to Arlington with an interesting tradition in mind that he, fellow veterans and active-duty members on his crew could partake in.
“It’s a tradition that if you leave a penny on a headstone, that lets the service member and their family know that somebody stopped by,” says Smalt. “If you leave a nickel on the headstone, it indicates that you went to basic training with that service member. A dime means you were stationed with that particular service member, and if you leave a quarter, that means you were in combat with them when they were killed. Our crew decided that would be a great tribute for what we’re doing here to let some of these members know we stopped by.”
Smalt has participated in Renewal & Remembrance for three years and says he considers the experience an honor and a privilege. Smalt says that having events like these gives green industry professionals the opportunity to use their professional skills to give back to those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for the United States.
Cindy Code, executive director of Project EverGreen, has had the opportunity to work closely with veterans for many years, and she has actively participated in at least 15 out of the 23 Renewal & Remembrance events.
“It’s an awesome way to give back; it’s an incredible experience,” she says. “I think that the landscape industry, generally, is very willing to give back, and an opportunity like this keeps on growing. This is such a special place to remember our nation’s heroes, and what better way to give back than to keep their gravesides in great shape?”
Before dismissing attendees to get on with the day’s projects, Stahl took one last moment to express her appreciation to all those offering their service to the grounds of the cemetery.
“The service you provide today goes beyond simple landscaping and beautification,” says Stahl. “Renewal & Remembrance provides a valuable example to our children, the community, the military and to the thousands of citizens who visit Arlington that we’re all responsible for democracy. I’m always proud of my service as a soldier, but today, I’m prouder still that you’ve allowed me to be part of this effort. An effort that demonstrates to service members and their families, to our community and to our country that we embrace our role and our responsibility as citizens of the world’s greatest nation.”