A local group of students are part of a national effort to remember fallen soldiers during the holidays.
Nonprofit organization Wreaths Across America hosts an annual effort to put a wreath on the grave of every American veteran, whether on U.S. soil or abroad. The students are part of the Upper Montgomery Composite Squadron of the Civil Air Patrol, the civilian auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force.
The squadron, which meets weekly at Neelsville Middle School in Germantown, is selling wreaths that will be placed at sites like Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. The fundraiser helps the squadron raise money and help others contribute to the memory of fallen soldiers.
The 30 members of the squadron are middle and high school students in Montgomery County Public Schools, including Gaithersburg, Damascus and Col. Zadok Magruder high schools. Montgomery Village resident Ellen Milhiser, the group’s coordinator, said the students have had some success selling the $15 wreaths. They set up a display at a local Harley-Davidson dealership and sold them at the fall festival in Montgomery Village in October.
Fundraising has been slow, Milhiser said, but the group has broken the record of wreaths they sold last year.
Overall, the program has expanded since its inception in 1992, said Wreaths Across America spokeswoman Amber Caron. Wreaths Across America started when the owner of a Maine wreath company visited Arlington National Cemetery. Since then, requests have poured in from people wanting to place wreaths in American cemeteries and overseas, according to Caron.
This year, “we are estimating between 355,000 and 400,000 wreaths” will be sold and placed, she said.
A ceremony is held at Arlington National Cemetery every year where individuals and local groups can visit and lay wreaths themselves. The event will be on Dec. 15, and wreaths will be sold through Dec. 13.
Milhiser said she and the squadron attended the ceremony last year.
“It is really, truly, the most unbelievable thing,” she said. “[Civil Air Patrol] kids are standing at attention,” and large tractor trailers bring thousands of red-ribboned, evergreen wreaths to the cemetery, she said.
Caron said of every wreath sold, $5 goes back to the fundraiser — in this case, the squadron. The Civil Air Patrol is an essential partner of Wreaths Across America, she said.
“Without groups like the [Civil Air Patrol] that do the local fundraising, we would be unable to do our mission,” she said.