LAANE VIRU COUNTY, Estonia - U.S. Army Soldiers and Estonians plant seedlings in a field in Estonia in observance of Earth Day, April 28, 2017.
The Soldiers were from Chaos Company, 1st Battalion, 68th Armor Regiment, 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, Fort Carson, Colorado, and are deployed into Eastern Europe as part of Operation Atlantic Resolve, demonstrating the U.S. commitment to NATO and restoring good faith to Estonia.
Special guests to the event were U.S. Ambassador to Estonia, James D. Melville, Jr., and Marko Pomerants, Estonian Minister of the Environment.
"The [U.S.] Embassy team were just thinking about ways to mark Earth Day appropriately with Estonian partners and friends," said Melville.
Pomerants instructed the audience how to use the pottiputki, a tree planting tool that the participants would use. Afterward, both Melville and Pomerants planted trees along with the crowd.
The field where the planting took place had an area already cleared.
Areas to replant trees are decided based on the removal of previous trees and how easily accessible the area is, said Pomerants.
Last week Pomerants was near the Estonian-Latvian border, near Valga working on that area. Years ago a storm did great damage, so there was a need to repopulate trees to that area, Pomerants said.
The removal of trees must meet a criteria of either 90 years old or a diameter of 26 centimeters for pine and 28 for spruce. Only sections are removed at a time to continue to support the local wildlife, such as woodpeckers and squirrels.
There must be a balance, said Pomerants.
"After some years, if you put the effort, you just cut some trees when they are very small," Pomerants said. "You choose, you give light for somebody and right to live, then you get a proper forest in such a way."
The Forest Management Board has multiple sites in Estonia where seeds are gathered, grown and cared for. When transplanted, the seedlings are already three or four years old and are almost no longer seedlings. Trees are considered seedlings until they reach a height of 3 feet.
The seedlings were planted in the winding rows of the area. With the tools and volunteers, the task was accomplished in approximately two hours.
"It's a great thing for the community, the environment, and just the world overall, to plant trees and give back," said Pvt. Jesse Defeo, a Soldier from first platoon, Chaos Company. "I was an eagle scout back home, so I used to do stuff like this all the time; I always enjoyed it."
Although this is only Melville's second year as ambassador to Estonia, he notes the involvement of U.S. Army in community events.
"The Soldiers have pitched in for community opportunities for outreach," said Melville. "So whether that's painting schools or putting up fences, cleaning up beaches, they are there."