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More than 400 volunteers gathered in the morning sun at Arlington National Cemetery July 28 for a day of service by professionals from across the landscape and lawn care industry to give back to their nation.

Going into its 18th year, the Professional Landscape Network’s (PLANET) annual Renewal and Remembrance program draws volunteers from roughly 100 landscaping companies and 30 different states to volunteer to preserve the cemetery. The volunteers spent the day applying nearly 80 tons of lime to enrich the cemetery’s soil to keep the grass healthy and green. They also aerated 45 acres of turf, and provided care and maintenance to seven of the cemetery’s trees.

“For 150 years now, Arlington National Cemetery has been a special place for Americans and thankful people all over the world to come and remember the service, sacrifice and especially the ultimate sacrifice of so many American heroes,” said Arlington National Cemetery Superintendent Jack Lechner Jr., during a brief opening ceremony. “One of the things that goes on here on a daily basis is the care and preservation of the property.”

Lightning protection was installed in five other trees near the newly renamed James R. Tanner amphitheatre. Metal conductors attached to copper wire ran from the tree tops into the ground so that a potential lightning strike would be neutralized by the ground instead of destroying the tree.

PLANET President Jim McCutcheon characterized the volunteers’ decision to travel – some hundreds of miles – to Arlington to participate in the project as a “simple decision,” a selfless act to help preserve a national landmark and honor military servicemembers.

“The men and women who serve in our military also make those simple decisions – the exact same ones we make every day,” McCutcheon said. “They also made the decision that they were going to serve this country, and in many cases dedicate their lives to that service. Those simple decisions lead to many great things for us. That’s who we’re here to honor today.”

Dozens of military veterans were among the volunteers.

Tom Warfel, a Marine veteran who served from 2001 to 2005 and served two tours in Iraq, flew into the National Capital Region with his wife over the weekend and then spent the day spreading lime.

“For me, being a veteran and my company giving me the opportunity to come out here is just a pleasure,” Warfel said as he pushed a cart through the grass of the cemetery’s section 11. “These guys gave the ultimate sacrifice and it’s phenomenal to be able to be a part of this here and treat these areas.”

Pete Kehoe, an Army veteran who completed a tour in Iraq from March 2005 to March 2006, was also grateful for the opportunity.

Kehoe lives in Newtown, Conn., and runs the maintenance division of a landscape firm near there.

“Being a military veteran and serving with a lot of guys, it’s a way a fellow can give back to the community,” he said of Renewal and Remembrance.

Kehoe said that volunteer work was just one of the many ways a war veteran can adjust to normal life after they return home from deployment.

“It helps with the healing process a lot,” he said.