Scouts clean up Arlington National Cemetery site
July 9, 2009
Chaplain's Hill cleaned by scouts
By Alex McVeigh Pentagram Staff Writer
As the Chaplain's Aide of his Boy Scout troop and the son of two Soldiers, Tyler "TJ" Ellwein is no stranger to the role of faith in the military. So when it came time to find a service project to become an Eagle scout, combining the two would be ideal.
He spent some time researching possible ideas such as building batting cages or soccer benches and designing a basketball mural for athletic teams at Annapolis Area Christian School where he is a student and teammate. Then he came upon some previous Eagle Scout projects where people helped clean up veterans' cemeteries.
Living in the Washington, D.C. area, with Arlington National Cemetery so close by, it seemed like a perfect opportunity. "I chose this project first of all because I want to show respect for those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice for the cost of our freedom and for those men and women in service uniform still protecting us and serving in harm's way," Ellwein said in his proposal. "This project is personally important because I currently serve as the chaplain's aide for Troop 1437."
His father, Chief Warrant Officer Frederick Ellwein, commander of the 389th Army Band, returned from a deployment to Iraq in November of 2008, just as his son was fleshing out the project.
Ellwein put in more than 300 hours of work for this project alone, which is more than triple the required 100 hours. His mother, Sgt. Maj. Dianne Ellwein, is a chaplain's assistant and works at National Guard bureau as the senior enlisted advisor and career manager for all the chaplain assistants throughout the Army National Guard. She helped get the ball rolling at ANC's Easter Sunrise Service, where she read scripture as a representative of the National Guard.
"I sat next to Jack Metzler [superintendent of ANC], and asked some questions there, and got some people to contact," she said. "We had a strict timeline, we wanted to do it before President Obama came for his first Memorial Day address, but also before other events such as 'Flags In.'"
With only six days notice, Ellwein was able to recruit more than 35 of his fellow scouts, classmates and their parents for Sunday, May 17. The project didn't require him to personally purchase anything, everything was procured through donations. He was able to get transportation and a bus driver from the Christian transportation ministries, and the Arundal Christian Church donated money for food as well as cleaning supplies for the project.
With the help of Eric Dihle, grounds keeper for ANC, and Tom Sherlock, the Eagle Scout coordinator, the project was well on its way. When they got to Chaplain's Hill, located near the Tomb of the Unknowns and the John F. Kennedy eternal flame, Ellwein had to instruct his flock on how to clean the marble stones. Too much soap can damage them, and they have to be scrubbed in a circular motion.
Before they began, Ellwein gave an opening prayer, which struck his mother in a very profound way. "It was surreal. I've been there before for ceremonies, and I am used to seeing Major General Douglas Carver [Army Chief of Chaplains] lead a prayer in the same place my son was," Sgt. Maj. Ellwein said. "I definitely felt a lump in my throat, and got a little tear in my eye when I reflect upon TJ's final prayer on Chaplain's Hills surrounded by fellow scouts and Annapolis Area Christian School teammates... 'in God we thank these Chaplains and Chaplains Assistants for bringing to word of God to Soldiers so they could have an opportunity for everlasting and eternal life.'"
Besides helping him achieve the rank of eagle scout, Ellwein felt that he was merely doing something that needed to be done. "It is a way to give dignity to the chaplains and chaplain assistants by paying tribute to those who brought the word of God to many other servicemen and women," he said. "It's not often that young people like us are given the opportunity to say thank you to another generation of American heroes who protected and defended our country."
During breaks in the work, members of the group took time to walk over and take a look at several other memorials around the cemetery, including the Tomb of the Unknowns. This was the first time that the majority of the group had ever visited ANC.
Ellwein's project isn't finished yet. He plans to build brochure racks for ANC's visitors center, and is planning on planting a tree on Chaplain's Hill as soon as he can find a donor.
The project was done to coincide with the 100th anniversary celebration of the chaplain's assistant. "As we celebrate the 100th year anniversary of the the chaplain's assistant it was a strong desire for me as a chaplain's assistant to be able to honor all those who have gone before me," Sgt. Maj. Ellwein said. "There is no more appropriate place to do this I believe than Chaplain's Hill, the home of heroes, of patriots who rest in peace." "When I stand on Chaplain's Hill it just feels like holy ground," she said.
Sgt. Maj. Ellwein believes that what her son is doing is the epitome of the chaplain's motto. "I cannot tell you how proud I am of what my son has accomplished with showing respect to those in the ministry who have made the ultimate sacrifice to serve our nation and our God," she said. "This is what the chaplaincy is all about... we nurture the living, care for the wounded and honor the dead we bring God to Soldiers and Soldiers to God."