FORT BRAGG, N.C. - In 1872, J. Sterling Morton proposed to the Nebraska Board of Agriculture that a special day be set aside for the planting of trees. The holiday, called Arbor Day, was first observed with the planting of more than a million trees in Nebraska. Now, Arbor Day is commemorated throughout the nation and the world.

We celebrate Arbor Day on Fort Bragg as well because sustainable land use is essential to our military mission. By protecting our lands today, we can preserve our natural resources for future generations of American Soldiers.

On March 18, the Fort Bragg Arbor Board and Sustainable Fort Bragg observed its annual North Carolina Arbor Day with an official tree planting ceremony at Devers Elementary School. School ambassadors Mia Davis, Kylie Readman, Lacey Norris, Bernard Flerlage, Molly Mansker, Kiana Hickey, Rachel Sullivan, Hannah Corbin and Julia Terry assisted Garrison Commander Colonel Stephen Sicinski with the planting of a native redbud tree on campus.

"We love celebrating Arbor Day with school children," said Julia Love, sustainable land use planner and member of the Fort Bragg Arbor Board.

At the ceremony, Andrew Snyder from the Forestry Division of the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources awarded Fort Bragg its sixth Tree City USA recognition and its fourth consecutive Tree City USA Growth Award for the installation's commitment to environmental improvements and tree maintenance. Snyder presented the Tree City USA flag to Sicinski and to Kyle Dow, Devon Buddie, Jocelyn Reeder, Angel Jones, Christian Yoder and Madison Moore of the Devers Elementary School Flag Team.

Additionally, Sicinski presented school principal Ginny Breece with the Fort Bragg Arbor Board coin, which was designed and handcrafted by installation architect and Arbor Board member, John Rose.

"Our participation in the Arbor Day celebration was a great opportunity for our students to see how the military community is involved with our environment and how important trees are to our future," said Breece. "This experience will provide an opportunity for our students to be actively engaged in their own learning through caring for the tree."

For the Arbor Board, the event was especially significant since the tree planting at Devers Elementary coincided with a major tree mitigation project on the boundary of the school campus. "Mitigation from a construction project on the reservation allowed us to plant a boundary of 160 native longleaf pines along the entire school property," Love explained. "With some rainfall, we should see a double row of pines to delineate the school playground from the housing area in six to seven years to enhance the longleaf pine ecosystem."

To further foster an interest in Arbor Day, Sustainable Fort Bragg hosted the inauguration of the UnbeLEAFable Sculpture Competition. Students created tree sculptures from unconventional and recycled materials. The sculptures were on display at John L. Throckmorton Library during Arbor Week, and patrons voted on their favorite pieces. Jasmine Medina's sculpture Christmas in March received the top award in the preschool through grade 2 category. Selyn Elopre received the honor in the grade three through grade six category for her sculpture Tree of Life Experience. Music Tree by Brandi Richardson was selected as the best sculpture in the grade seven through grade 12 category.

"An installation that supports the environment through its very mission and through its community by planting a redbud on Arbor Day brings awareness to many. The ceremony that observed Arbor Day 2011 was a success, in my opinion, because it was in the presence of not only growing trees, but growing minds," said SuAnn Shupp, the Fort Bragg Arbor Board president and a wildlife biologist.