By Ken Venzke, Division Manager
In early May 2018, Will Nutter, president and COO of Wright Tree Service (WTS), contacted the management team to inform us of an organization called Saluting Branches. I can speak for myself and members of Division 25 in saying that we hadn’t heard of it.
Saluting Branches is a nonprofit organization founded in 2013 by Rainbow Treecare out of Minnesota dedicated to recognizing and honoring our veterans. The focus and goal of Saluting Branches is to make our veterans’ final resting place a beautiful and safe environment for all who visit national veterans cemeteries. Each September, volunteer professionals and members of the community donate their time, energy and skills to perform landscape and tree work at the cemeteries in preparation of Veterans Day. Participants volunteer on the same day in different locations around the U.S. and Mexico, which makes the event unique and unifying.
The work consists of removing dead limbs and trees, pruning shrubs, removing potentially dangerous overhanging branches and, in some cases, raking and picking up tree debris. Volunteers coordinate efforts and tasks with direction from the site leader, who ensures that all work is performed in a safe manner.
After learning about Saluting Branches, I wanted employees in our division to have the opportunity to volunteer for the great cause. However, there was not an approved veterans cemetery in the eastern part of our division listed on the website. I reached out to Brandon Hughson, a representative of Saluting Branches, who let us know that if we could get a site identified, we could be signed up for the event. Once a site is listed on the website, members of the public can also sign up to volunteer.
We partnered with FirstEnergy Potomac Edison Forestry to identify the Rocky Gap Veterans Cemetery near Cumberland, Maryland. From there we reached out to the cemetery’s head caretaker for permission and then relayed his willingness to accept help back to Brandon. We were able to add the site to Saluting Branches’ list of 53 approved locations across North America.
We worked with the head groundskeeper to coordinate the 10 community volunteers who joined our group of nine employees. FirstEnergy partnered with us and paid for the employees’ time while we donated equipment and lunch for the team. We completed the work safely in one day, working 11 hours. Although no one in our group is a veteran, we all had a sense of pride and accomplishment knowing we had helped honor the brave men and women who have served our great nation.
The 2019 Saluting Branches event will happen on September 18 and I highly encourage everyone to volunteer. This opportunity is not only for arborists and landscaping professionals. Please spread the word to your community organizations.
To volunteer, visit the Saluting Branches website, reach out by email at [email protected], or call 1-844-922-1151. In 2018 there were 53 sites in 37 states and Mexico; let’s aim to have even more sites in 2019 and make this year’s event a huge success. If there isn’t a site close to you listed on the website, you can identify a veterans cemetery and contact Saluting Branches to add a site.