What's Cold, Wet, and Smells like Pine?

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Hundreds of thousands of visitors make a pilgrimage to Arlington National Cemetery (ANC) each year to grieve, pay their respects and honor our great country and its defenders.

And at the end of every year, thousands of volunteers show up to support the annual laying of the wreaths sponsored by Wreaths Across America.

Arlington Cemetary
Arlington Cemetary

A one-day project - not so much. Instead, countless hours of coordination, donations, and planning in support of every national cemetery across the country. Then, on a cold day in December, volunteers bundled up in their winter clothes line up at tractor trailers to carry and lay more than 300,000 wreaths on the graves of fallen American soldiers, their families and past presidents.

But like any project, this one has a beginning and an end, and like most projects, the least glamourous job is the closeout and cleanup. The closeout for the Wreaths Across America ANC 2014 project took place on January 24th and resulted in the collection and recycling of those same 300,000 wreaths. On that rainy cold day, members of the UMT Federal Team, along with other veterans, cadets, families, cub scout troops, etc… participated in this truly awesome event.

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Team-members Patrick, Greg, Mihir, and myself spent more than two hours working as a team collecting hundreds of wreaths and carrying them to the dumpsters spread throughout the cemetery. While good old fashioned brute strength came in handy, as individuals worked to collect 10 or more wreaths at a time lined up in their arms, the event saw many innovations in “wreath collection technology” (WCT) including methods involving ropes, PVC pipe, brooms sticks, and more. The most effective technique seemed to be teams of two working together with either rope or a 10 foot long PVC pole, allowing them to cover two rows at once and carry upwards of 25 to 30 wreaths at a time.

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Next came the standing in line at the dumpsters and the depositing of the wreaths in an orderly manner to maximize dumpster capacity. At one point, a dumpster was so overflowing with wreaths that it could hold no more and the line of volunteers stretched down a nearby hill. The UMT team sprang into action, climbing atop the pile and compacting the contents while onlookers cheered! (well maybe they didn’t cheer, but the story is better if they cheered). Averting the overflow, the dumpster was ready to be filled with even more wreaths from anxious volunteers.

Arlington Cemetary

I think this special activity will live long in the team’s memories and is something we plan to treat as a “recurring project” for years to come. Our goal is to participate in both the laying of the wreaths and wreath collection. In the future we’ll also invite clients and others in the Federal community we interact with to join. Through this and similar efforts, we hope to leave a lasting impression on the DC area, much as the sight of hundreds of thousands of wreaths left an impression in our hearts.