Arborists United for Veteran Remembrance: Saluting Branches’ Journey

From its modest origins in Minnesota, Saluting Branches has grown into a nationwide movement that celebrates our fallen servicemen and women. Created by Rainbow Treecare, an accredited, 35-year TCIA member company, this annual Saluting Branches Day of Service now extends its reach far beyond its initial boundaries. With a focus on honoring veterans, this nonprofit initiative has left a lasting impact on both the tree care industry and the individuals who participate.

Saluting Branches has left a lasting impact on both the tree care industry and the individuals who participate. Unless otherwise noted, photos courtesy of Saluting Branches

Saluting Branches operates under the structure of a certified 501(c)(3) organization, guided by a dedicated board of directors and aided by a part-time employee. These industry volunteers are the driving force behind the organization’s mission to honor American service men and women by organizing volunteer tree and landscape care for properties dedicated to our veterans. Supporting the board are specialized committees responsible for different aspects of the day of service, including enrollment, logistics, communications, sponsorships and tree planting. This intricate system ensures the smooth coordination of each annual event.

Site leaders are crucial

The heart of Saluting Branches lies in its site leaders, scattered across the country. These individuals play a crucial role in bringing the organization’s vision to life by acting as a bridge between government bodies and industry volunteers. These site leaders dedicate significant time to the event’s planning and execution, embodying the essence of service that defines Saluting Branches.

The origins of Saluting Branches date back to 2015, when the organization held its first Day of Service in collaboration with the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and its National Cemetery Association (NCA). The event drew more than 1,000 industry volunteers to 27 sites across the nation. This collective effort marked the beginning of a tradition built on respect and action.

Current director reflects on past hurdles

Brent Cooper, with Rainbow Treecare and past president and current director of Saluting Branches, reflected on the hurdles the team encountered when introducing the initial idea of Saluting Branches to the head agronomist at the VA.

“He was reluctant at first, and pointed to a number of failures by other nonprofits,” says Cooper. “In the end, he gave us a chance and identified 23 locations that would be interested in trying out this partnership. After the initial event in 2015, Saluting Branches was offered high praise from around the VA, for the professionalism and quality of the event our volunteers brought to them.”

Nine years later, the Saluting Branches Annual Day of Service continues to flourish as the tree care and landscaping industries offer support for our troops by helping to make their final resting places safe and beautiful environments.

Coordinating volunteers is challenging

More than 80 arborists from Bartlett Tree Experts’ offices across the U.S. donated a day of tree work on September 28, 2022, during the 8th annual Saluting Branches Day of Service. This group was at Golden Gate National Cemetery in San Bruno, California. Photo courtesy of Bartlett Tree Experts.

Acts of service, such as the Saluting Branches Day of Service, experience their share of struggles, too. “Coordinating anywhere from five to 150 volunteers, all from different parts of the industry, can be challenging. Working in a cemetery that actively inters veterans daily can be challenging to work around logistically. Enforcing safety has gotten much better, and staying humble and serving in the tasks most needed by your site is a constant,” explains Carrie Tauscher, arboretum director at the Crown Hill Heritage Foundation in Indianapolis, who also serves as a director on Saluting Branches’ board.

A cornerstone of Saluting Branches’ success is its partnership with the VA, which grants access to veterans’ locations across the country. This alliance empowers arborists and volunteers to use their skills to create secure and peaceful environments for veterans.

Saluting Branches president reflects on the event

Brian Bruce, president of Saluting Branches, recalls, “Through the years, on our day of service we are hammered by new volunteers who come with their equipment to new sites all over the country, standing at port arms with the desire to give back. I have heard stories from countless people, ‘My great-grandfather served in World War I and is buried right here.’ One huge man, who stood about 6 feet 7 inches and with a beard more prominent than a backwoods logger, was seen wiping tears from his face as he heard a 21-gun salute and ‘Taps’ being played during a ceremony.

A cornerstone of Saluting Branches’ success is its partnership with the VA, which grants access to veterans’ locations across the country.

“He came up to me later in the day and said his twin brother was killed while deployed in Iraq and was buried at the cemetery we worked at that day,” recalls Bruce. “I never thought a man of that stature possibly had the ability to let his emotions run free until it was time to give back. He then asked where he could sign up to do this for life.

A day bigger than all of us combined

“Saluting Branches is bigger than all of us combined,” Bruce continues. “It is a day and time to put all else that troubles us behind. We come that morning with the world’s weight on our shoulders, our family troubles, raising kids, work stresses and just overall burdens. We leave with a sense of pride and the fact that we just spent an entire day beautifying the final resting places of strangers, friends, brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers. A selfless act that we then desire to do until we can no longer. You forget your problems and leave them with the fact that you just gave back to the ones who gave it all.”

Call to action becomes louder

As Saluting Branches approaches its ninth-annual Day of Service, the call to action becomes louder. It invites arborists, volunteers and supporters from all walks of life to participate in an effort of remembrance and service. In a world often divided, Saluting Branches stands as a symbol of unity, empathy and unwavering dedication. Its history showcases the power of honoring veterans through meaningful action, ensuring their legacy is preserved and cherished.

A pair of volunteers participate in a previous Saluting Branches Day of Service.

There are several ways individuals can contribute to the impactful mission of Saluting Branches. Arborists, industry professionals and other volunteers can participate in the annual Day of Service by offering their skills and time to care for trees at veterans’ cemeteries. Beyond the tree care field, non-tree workers also can lend a hand by engaging in tasks such as tree planting, debris cleanup and assisting with event logistics. Sharing information about Saluting Branches with fellow tree companies, spreading the word on social media and reaching out to local media outlets can help raise awareness about this noble cause. Additionally, individuals can explore sponsorship opportunities or contribute food donations to support the volunteers. By uniting in the shared purpose of honoring veterans, each person has the opportunity to make a meaningful difference through Saluting Branches.

Thanks to our sponsors

In 2022, Vermeer and Saluting Branches worked together to give away a one-year lease of this custom-wrapped Vermeer AX17 brush chipper. Vermeer unveiled the chipper at TCI EXPO ’22 in Charlotte, North Carolina, last fall. This summer, Vermeer and Saluting Branches announced TCIA member Josh Guin of Oak Bros Tree Care & Removal in Bloomington, Illinois, as the winner of the one-year lease. Photo courtesy of Vermeer.

Saluting Branches couldn’t exist without our sponsors. Thank you to Benefactor Sponsor Vermeer; Champion Sponsor Rainbow Treecare; Partner Sponsors Bandit Tree Equipment, Bartlett Tree Experts, The Davey Tree Expert Company, Husqvarna, Lewis Tree Service, Monster Tree Service, Morbark and Stanley Tree Service; Associate Sponsors PennLine and Wright Tree Service; and In-Kind Sponsors ACRT Services, Arborwear, International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) and the Tree Care Industry Association (TCIA).
We hope to see you September 20, 2023, at a veteran’s cemetery near you! For more information and to register, visit

Renee Bissett is secretary and director of Saluting Branches, and director of marketing and communications for ACRT Services, a 38-year TCIA corporate member company based in Stow, Ohio.

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