Gimlet Soldiers give back to the Big Island and veterans
October 3, 2012
By Bob McElroy
POEHAKULOA TRAINING AREA, Hawaii--Soldiers from the 1st Battalion 21st Infantry (Gimlets) continued the work of their predecessors when they spent Saturday morning Sept. 29 planting Native Hawaiian trees and shrubs at the West Hawaii Veteran's Cemetery on Hawaii Island.
The 15 Soldiers are the latest from the 25th Infantry Division to support the cemetery. Since 2005 Schofield-based Soldiers training at Pōhakuloa have joined community volunteers to restore the dry land forest which used to flourish in the area.
On Saturday their task was to plant Native Hawaiian plants in a flat field of a'a lava overlooking the cemetery. Each Soldier got one small plant to put in the ground.
The Soldiers first cleared a small hole in the a'a with their hands or broke through it with metal tools. Next they laid soil in the hole and gently placed their plants in it. Finally they placed dried grass on top of the soil to protect the new plants.
A network of plastic tubing dispenses drops of water to each plant at a controlled rate. This drip or trickle irrigation system is efficient and doesn't waste water.
One of the Soldiers who volunteered, Staff Sgt. Jo Cote, said she was happy to give something back to the community.
"I was fighting to get out here, to do something to let people know we appreciate their support," Cote said. "Sometimes we (Soldiers) get bad stereotypes; I want to try to change that."
When the West Hawaii Veterans Cemetery was established in 1994 it was a dry, dusty and barren area. The once vast Hawaiian dry land forest which surrounded it was gone, eaten away by wild goats.
The reforestation began in 2005 as a joint effort of the University of Hawaii, veterans groups, schools, community organizations and active duty military and civilian volunteers from PTA. To date more than 10,000 Native plants have been planted on the hill overlooking the cemetery.
Richard Stevens, the reforestation project coordinator for the cemetery, said that having Soldiers work side by side with community volunteers and veterans the last few years has been special.
"It really adds an extra element, an extra energy to have the troops here. For one thing it means a lot more to the veterans when they see active duty troops here, they feel such a connection," Stevens said. "They do such an energetic job up there on the hill and they enjoy it so much that it makes us really feel good. Having active duty military here is very special for us."
The experience was special for the Soldiers as well. 2nd Lt. Lilia Barrera, 1-21 assistant S-2 summed it up succinctly.
"I'm a tree hugger at heart," she said. "It feels good to give back."