ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. - Surrounded by more than 200 area school students, senior installation commander Maj. Gen. Nick Justice became a history teacher during APG's 2011 Arbor/Earth Day celebration April 29.

"I'll be your history teacher today," Justice told the students as a cool morning wind swept over APG Museum. "You'll have fun and learn something fun today, and I hope you keep it with you. And the best part is...no test!"

The commander noted that master of ceremonies Janet Dettweiler had mentioned the date the first national Arbor Day took place.

"In 1872 the first Arbor Day was held. So this green movement has been around for 139 years," Justice said. "It's so big now that it's a national priority! But remember, there's nothing as green as Army green!"

Justice linked history together for the students, noting the presence of Betty O'Leary, granddaughter of Capt. Steven Andrew Cohee, the last keeper of the lighthouse on APG's Poole's Island.

"It's the oldest lighthouse in Maryland waters. It is a national treasure, on the national registry of historic properties," Justice said. Poole's Island Lighthouse is to be re-lit May 21, the final event of APG's Armed Forces Week activities. A replica of the lighthouse was unveiled during the Arbor/Earth Day celebration, and a time capsule of current artifacts was placed inside.

"What a great treasure we have in that lighthouse," Justice emphasized. "And I want to thank you guys, because when we looked at your posters and some of the things you wrote about, that touches my heart. You are learning here about your nation and your environment.

"And why is that important'" Justice asked the attentive students. "Because one day - in the very near future - you're going to be in charge of this. You are going to be the stewards of the earth."

Justice then harkened to the U.S. Constitution, to the Preamble.

"It says, 'Preserving the lessons of liberty not only for us, but for our posterity,'" Justice said. "Well, this is your treasure, and I'm so thankful that you recognize how important this is. I hope that when you think of this day and look at the artifacts that you will learn to treasure your history and value it, and that you learn to pass it down to generation and generation after that.

"And remember: There's no green like Army green," Justice said once more before leaving the podium.

APG Garrison Commander Col. Orlando Ortiz said for 72 years the Poole's Island Lighthouse was dormant.

"The light in that lighthouse has not shone," he said. "And now, May 21, symbolic of what we try to do on military installations as we move ahead, we are re-lighting the lighthouse, to forever be lit, lighting the path forward.

"What is taking place is important, because it's your future - our future," Ortiz added.

Wayne Merkel, representing the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, provided a wealth of statistics for his listeners, and said 2011 is the International Year of Forests.

"Trees are the solution to water and air pollution," Merkel said. "One large tree can produce enough oxygen to support two people annually.

"Trees cool the air. They are natural air conditioners," he continued.

"There are over 5,000 products that come from trees. You know about furniture and lumber and paper, and baseball bats. But did you know trees are in football helmets' How about tooth paste' Shampoo' Lipstick' Nail polish' Oils from the bark are in perfume.

"Trees also reduce noise pollution and provide shelter for wild life," he added. "Trees run on sunshine and rain. Trees are a renewable nature resource."

"In Maryland, there are 2.6 million acres of forest, or 41 percent of the state," he said. "The Chesapeake watershed is 68 percent forested. There are 78,000 acres on APG and 17,000 acres are forested.

"There are 1,475 new trees on APG in the last year," Merkel said.

Merkel commended APG leadership for recognizing the importance of forest and tree conservation and presented Justice and Ortiz with the National Arbor Day Foundation and U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service's Tree City U.S.A award for 2010, the sixth consecutive year the installation has received the award.

The installation also received the Tree City U.S.A. Growth Award for 2010, as recognition for environmental improvements that have been made. This was the fourth consecutive year APG has received this award.

Merkel also presented APG leaders with the People Loving and Nurturing Trees (PLANT) award. He said there are four levels to the PLANT award, with green being the highest. APG received the Green PLANT award.

"This is a desirable place," Merkel said, pointing to the tall white oak tree next to the site of the ceremony. "The white oak is the Maryland state tree."

Winners of the APG Arbor/Earth Day essay and poster contest received their awards. Winners were:

Essay contest:

Pre-K - 2nd grade - 1st Place - Kenneth "Andy" Beresh, Cecil Manor Elementary School

3rd to 5th grade - 1st Place - Lucinda Shannon, St. Joan of Arc School; 2nd place - Olivia Ann Del Pizzo, Youth Benefit Elementary School

6th to 8th grade - 1st place - Anna Smith, St. Joan of Arc School; 2nd place - Melissa Webster, St. Joan of Arc School

Poster contest:

Pre-K to 2nd grade - 1st Place - Isabella Cirincione, St. Joan of Arc School; 2nd place - Kenneth "Andy" Beresh, Cecil Manor Elementary School

3rd to 5th grade - 1st place - Jenna Raynor, Youth's Benefit Elementary; 2nd place - Gabriella Cirincione, St. Joan of Arc School

6th to 8th grade - 1st place - Victoria Lawrence, Havre de Grace Middle School; 2nd place - Victoria French, Aberdeen Middle School.

Special thanks went to Environment 2 students at North Harford High School for helping review and judge the essay and poster contest entries, and for helping with hands-on activities.

Musicians from the Edgewood High School Band provided music for the ceremony.

(NOTE: Earth Day is officially celebrated April 22 nationwide. Arbor Day is officially celebrated nationally on the last Friday in April, and on the first Wednesday in April for Maryland.)