By Mason W. Canales

Killeen Daily Herald

FORT HOOD - A single tree, soil and shovels started the post's celebration of Arbor Day, a military child fest and another year of being declared a Tree City USA.

"The beauty of this is it is a celebration for the Earth, for Arbor Day and for our children," said Col. Mark Freitag, Fort Hood garrison commander, about the combined Earth Fest and the Month of the Military Child Fest Friday.

Freitag was one of several individuals who covered the roots of a tree now standing inside the 79th Street Gate. Freitag said the tree is one of more than 1,400 that were planted across the post in the last two years.

Rob Grotty, an Austin-area forester from the Texas Forest Service, commended Fort Hood's efforts.

"There is a lot of work that goes into this," he said. Planting trees is cheap and easy compared to maintaining them to ensure their roots spread into the ground. Being a Tree City USA is not an easy task, and this is Fort Hood's seventh year.

"I think it just adds to the quality of life here on Fort Hood," said Freitag, noting that shade and flowering trees were added to the installation, making it more pleasing for visitors and those living on post.

After the morning ceremonial tree planting, busloads of area schoolchildren arrived on post to enjoy displays, games, lectures and demonstrations about the environment and healthy living.

"These are things that are all here on Fort Hood," said Gil Eckirch, an outreach coordinator for nature resources for the department of public works, to a group of fifth-grade students.

As Eckirch showed exhibits of copperhead snakes, coyotes, mountain lions and a great horned owl, he asked the children questions about the animals.

"Why do the owls have feathers all the way down to the talons?" he asked. The students shouted out a variety of answers before he said, "because of this, the owl can fly silent."

The department of public works wasn't the only one educating about 1,000 area students. Other community environmental groups, such as Keep Temple Beautiful and Keep Killeen Beautiful also participated, while groups such as the commissary taught children about eating healthy foods.

Mylani Monaghan, a 9-year-old Peebles Elementary School student, said she learned about the water cycle, recycling and animals.

"You get to see a little bit more of nature being out here instead of being stuck in the classroom," she said.

Environmental outreach coordinator Christine Luciano said the event was a great opportunity for school-age children to get an interactive lesson on earth science. The event also let the community know about Fort Hood's commitment to be sustainable.

"I am really excited about all we are doing in the name of sustainablity," said Freitag.

Contact Mason W. Canales at

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