USAG Rheinland-Pfalz commemorates Earth Day, memorializes deceased comrade

U.S. Army Col. Reid Furman, U.S. Army Garrison Rheinland-Pfalz commander, center, speaks to garrison employees who gathered to both celebrate Earth Day and remember the late Lutz Andres, a former garrison employee, April 19, 2024, on U.S. Army Garrison Rheinland-Pfalz, Germany. Furman emphasized that his command treats environmental stewardship as an everyday responsibility of each Department of Defense member. (Defense Media Activity photo by Senior Airman Christian Conrad)

Lutz Andres rarely strayed from his morning routine.

After arriving each morning at his job in the Directorate of Public Works at Rhine Ordnance Barracks, Andres would pore over a garden plot he’d meticulously created and maintained on the grounds.

Teeming with colorful mums, peonies and seasonal flora, the garden’s beauty, coupled with Andres’ dedication to keeping it thriving, quickly earned him a reputation for having a green thumb — a quality that led to him and his office taking the lead on U.S. Army Garrison Rheinland-Pfalz’s 2024 Earth Day celebration.

However, on the morning the team was to pick up a pear tree sapling, the planting of which was to be the backdrop of the ceremony, Andres was nowhere to be found.

A plaque commemorating the garrison’s 54th year celebrating Earth Day stands at the site of a newly-planted tree sapling April 19, 2024, on U.S. Army Garrison Rheinland-Pfalz, Germany. The tree sapling serves to not only celebrate Earth Day, but also memorialize the late Lutz Andres, a former garrison employee. (Defense Media Activity photo by Senior Airman Christian Conrad)

“It wasn’t like him to be late — not for this,” said Zach Eberbach, the garrison’s energy manager and a colleague of Andres. “It became clear early on that something was wrong.”

It wasn’t long before Eberbach learned what happened.

Lutz Andres was pronounced dead that day, April 17, having passed away during the night.

Pear trees have long symbolized abundance and longevity across different cultures and millennia. Andres may not have attended the garrison’s April 19 Earth Day ceremony, but the pear tree his team chose to plant during it was selected as a tribute not only to a man who worked tirelessly as a steward of the environment but whose efforts encapsulated the garrison’s commitment to a more sustainable future.

Members of U.S. Army Garrison Rheinland-Pfalz leadership plant a tree during a ceremony April 19, 2024, at the garrison’s headquarters building in Germany. Army Earth Day exemplifies the garrison’s commitment to protect the public resources entrusted to military care and provides an opportunity to focus attention on its environmental program. (Defense Media Activity photo by Senior Airman Christian Conrad)

During the ceremony, Col. Reid Furman, U.S. Army Garrison Rheinland-Pfalz commander, thanked Andres for his toil and for planting the seeds that will eventually give root to an expanded Army culture of environmental guardianship.

“Today marks 54 years the Army has celebrated Earth Day,” he said. “In that time, the garrison has made its 29,000 acres a home worth providing for and protecting. (Andres) saw that, and we’ll continue to live and work in a way that honors his vision. By safeguarding the environment today, we can ensure cleaner land, water and air in the future.”

Indeed, the garrison is home to more than 250 threatened and endangered species on 120 Army sites, necessitating the garrison to manage 23 active soil and groundwater cleanup projects to properly support and sustain the ecosystem.

Furman continued, linking the need to protect the environment with the need to maintain readiness.

“In sustaining the environment, the Army secures the mission,” Furman explained. “It’s a crucial action in guaranteeing our installations have the infrastructure needed for training, mobilization and deployment.”

By dedicating the newly planted pear tree to Andres, Furman also reiterated to those in attendance that it isn’t the responsibility of just one person to care for the environment, but all personnel — a promise to which one must anchor all their everyday actions, big or small, in order to keep.

“There’s a saying,” Furman said, glancing at the pear tree sapling. “‘Blessed are those who plant trees under whose shade they will never sit.’ (Andres) will never get to sit in the shade of this pear tree, but there will be those who will, and we plant this tree today for them.”

Following the ceremony, garrison employees, many of whom worked closely with Andres, took turns shoveling mounds of dirt onto the plant site. Though teary-eyed, many couldn’t help but smile, remembering a caring man who would come in early and stay late to provide for the garrison and its people. A man whom friends like Eberbach described as a “citrus fan,” often grabbing up more than the allotted oranges from the garrison’s dining facility.

“It’s hard, and we’re all pretty shaken up,” Eberbach said. “But we have each other, and we all have our own memories of (Andres), so it’s been nice to be together now and revisit those times. It’s kind of our way of memorializing him.”

Regarding the custody and continued care of Andres’ beloved garden plot, Eberbach smiled.

“We’ll all pitch in to keep it going, I’m sure of it,” he said, grinning. “Yeah, Lutz would love that.”