LEAVENWORTH, Kan. — Tree removal companies across the Kansas City area joined forces Wednesday for the 9th annual Saluting Branches Day of Service at Leavenworth National Cemetery.
Saluting Branches is a nonprofit originating in Minnesota in 2015 as a way for arborists to provide tree care services at national cemeteries and veteran properties.
It now takes place in all 50 states, Puerto Rico and Mexico with thousands of volunteers and millions of dollars worth of services provided each year.
“It feels good to give my time and efforts towards something that’s this lasting,” said Spencer Wicks, a site leader at Leavenworth this year.
Wicks has served with Saluting Branches for the past eight years. As someone with personal ties to veterans, this day takes top priority.
“Two of my grandfathers were in the military, and so the veteran community has a special place in my heart,” Wicks said.
The same can be said for Mark Bartlow, another volunteer. He’s been in the “tree world,” as he calls it, for over 30 years.
“I had grandfathers that were both military, [they] served in World War II,” Bartlow said. “My dad served in Vietnam, and you know, when you have that in your family, [you have] that sense of pride and sense of country in giving back. It’s one of those things you get asked and you’re like, ‘Yeah, let’s do it.’”
According to Bartlow, such eagerness is a key component of people who work in his field.
“It’s one of those things where every day you’ve got a new adventure going on, you’ve got a new problem to solve,” he said.
Thus, attracting people from all walks of life.
“The tree industry attracts a certain type of people,” said Alex Mullock, a volunteer and former site leader. “You have to be willing to accept risk to a certain degree throughout your day, but you also have to care for trees. So you have to have this hardness about you and also this tenderness at the same time.”
And tenderness is something that helped the likes of Bartlow reflect about what service means on a day like this.
“The thing that’s really neat with it is, it’s kind of like today, tree people always seem to be so giving,” he said. “And, you know, we’re in a place like this where a lot of people probably gave up their life for this country.”
Forty-seven thousand, six-hundred-and-fourteen to be exact — that’s the number of veterans and eligible dependents interred at Leavenworth National Cemetery as of Wednesday morning.
“What you can contribute of making someone’s final memory of their loved one, the role you can play in that is alone in and of itself a reward,” said Omil Carrasquillo, the director at Leavenworth National Cemetery.
Carrasquillo served in the army for four years, from 1996 to 2000. After that, he served in the National Guard and was on duty during 9/11.
“It’s a very personal day for me,” Carrasquillo said. “I’m a native New Yorker, and I was there helping out with the original operations. But yeah, did my service in the nation guard. After 9/11, finished my service and ended up where I am today.”
It’s his role as director today that he says allows him to still do what matters to him most: serve.
“Just serving others, helping one another,” Carrasquillo said. “Helping my fellow co-workers, the people under me that do the real hard work.”
Carrasquillo says that the work that the volunteers come and do every year is hard too, but also makes an immense difference.
“These are people that specialize in their fields,” he said. “Arborists, this is what they do for a living, and they’re helping to beautify, to maintain this national cemetery as a shrine.”