GW Midshipmen Participate in Wreath Cleanup at Arlington National Cemetery

January 28, 2015 2:50 p.m.


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ARLINGTON, Va., (NNS) -- Members of the George Washington University Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps (NROTC) unit teamed up with students from the university's Law School Military Law Society to help Wreaths Across America and their annual cleanup of Arlington National Cemetery Jan. 24.

"From the time I first arrived here at the NROTC unit, I was immediately impressed with the caliber and quality of midshipmen that we were leading," said Capt. Andrew Cully, commanding officer of the unit. "They understand the concept of service before self and have spent many of their 'off-duty' hours volunteering in the local community as well as nationally when approximately 25 volunteered to help with the Hurricane Sandy efforts in New York and New Jersey (November 2012). Their efforts at the Arlington National Cemetery are just another testament to their outstanding character."

The seven midshipmen worked together with the university law students to pick up more than 500 wreaths of those that were placed on the more than 400,000 gravesites at the 624-acre cemetery Dec. 13, 2014.

The GW midshipmen also had the unique privilege to visit the gravesite of Rear Adm. Charles Stockton (and his wife Pauline). Stockton was the U.S. Navy's foremost expert in International Law and served as president of the Naval War College. After his retirement from the Navy, Stockton became the President of George Washington University and professor of International Law at The George Washington University Law School.

"We were designated a section of the cemetery and worked alongside other volunteers to pick up the wreaths," said Midshipman 1st Class Melissa Ogden. "Once the cemetery was all cleaned up, we visited Rear Adm. Stockton's gravesite to pay our respects."

The midshipmen also took time to visit and pay tribute to the Tomb of the Unknowns and watch a wreath laying ceremony and the military sentinel guard march off 21-steps, similar to a 21-gun salute, as a form of honoring the unknowns. The midshipmen found it interesting to learn the Sentinels do not execute an about face, rather they stop on the 21st step, then turn and face the Tomb for 21 seconds. They then turn to face back down the mat, change the weapon to the outside shoulder, mentally count off 21 seconds, and then step off for another 21 step walk down the mat. They face the Tomb at each end of the 21 step walk for 21 seconds. The sentinels then repeat this over and over until the Guard Change Ceremony begins.

"It was incredibly powerful for me and my fellow midshipmen to have been able to witness the wreath laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns," said Midshipman 4th Class Aaron Rabinowitz. "As a midshipman, witnessing such an event helps put our future role in the naval service in perspective; we will one day carry the torch for all those who have gone before us."

Midshipman 1st Class Nichella Nal said the unit hopes to repeat the cleanup every year and is excited to take part in the placing of the wreaths on the graves at Arlington next December and for many Decembers in the future.

"We have the responsibility of honoring those who have gone to fight for our freedoms, and through Wreaths Across America we can do so by reflecting upon what they have sacrificed," said Midshipman 4th Class Anthony Caliri. "By participating in the annual event and wreath laying, the midshipmen in this unit and other people can honor these men and women, and continue to carry on this wonderful tradition."

Wreaths Across America's mission is to remember, honor, teach, and to carry out in part by coordinating wreath laying ceremonies on a specified Saturday in December at Arlington, as well as veterans' cemeteries and other locations in all 50 states and beyond. Wreaths Across America also organizes a week of events including international veteran's tributes, ceremonies at State Houses and a week-long "Veteran's Parade" between Maine and Virginia where they stop along the way to spread their message about the importance of remembering fallen heroes, honoring those who serve, and teaching children about the sacrifices made by veterans and their families to preserve our freedoms.

Arlington National Cemetery is a United States military cemetery in Arlington County, Virginia, across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C., in whose 624 acres have been buried the dead of the nation's conflicts beginning with the American Civil War, as well as reinterred dead from earlier wars.

The cemetery was established during the Civil War on the grounds of Arlington House, which had been the estate of the family of Confederate general Robert E. Lee's wife Mary Anna (Custis) Lee (a great-granddaughter of Martha Washington). The cemetery, along with Arlington House, Memorial Drive, the Hemicycle, and the Arlington Memorial Bridge, form the Arlington National Cemetery Historic District, listed on the National Register of Historic Places in April 2014.

The NROTC program, overseen by Rear Adm. Rich Brown, commander, Naval Service Training Command (NSTC) at Naval Station Great Lakes, Illinois, was established to develop midshipmen mentally, morally and physically and to imbue them with the highest ideals of duty, loyalty and Navy core values in order to commission college graduates as Naval officers who possess a basic professional background, are motivated toward careers in the Naval service and have a potential for future development in mind and character so as to assume the highest responsibilities of command, citizenship and government.

NSTC oversees 98 percent of initial officer and enlisted accessions training for the Navy, as well as the Navy's Citizenship Development program. NSTC includes Recruit Training Command (RTC), the Navy's only boot camp, the NROTC programs at more than 160 colleges and universities, Officer Training Command (OTC) in Newport, Rhode Island, and Navy Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps (NJROTC) and Navy National Defense Cadet Corps (NNDCC) citizenship development programs at more than 600 high schools worldwide.

For more information about NROTC, visit For more information about NSTC, visit or visit the NSTC Facebook pages at

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