On a beautiful sunny Wednesday in Arlington, Virginia, Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS) and Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI) seemed happy to be out of their offices. But they didn’t take the trip just outside of Washington, D.C., for fun, they had important work to do, and it was not work they took lightly.
In the shadow of the United States Air Force Memorial, the senators would view plans for a much-needed expansion to the southern end of Arlington National Cemetery.
With the cemetery conducting nearly 30 burials a day, space is at a premium. In its current state, the cemetery won’t be able to conduct first internments by 2041, explained Karen Durham-Aguilera, executive director of Army National Military Cemeteries.
“The Army recognizes that the nation is at a critical point in the cemetery’s history,” Durham-Aguilera said. “Current projections show Arlington National Cemetery will reach maximum capacity in the early 2040s. This means that a veteran from the 1991 Gulf War who lives to his or her normal life expectancy will not have the choice to be interred at Arlington.”
While the two senators present on Wednesday may come from opposing political parties — and vastly different states — it was clear from their statements that they both intend to do everything in their power to do right by America’s fallen.
“This is a place for families and friends, for mourning and grieving, and remembrance. It is sacred space,” explained Sen. Moran.
Facing hurdles requiring coordination between numerous parties at the state and county level, Arlington’s southern expansion is no easy task. While listening to those concerns, Sen. Schatz explained that he’d be happy to help if the cemetery faces any pushback on that front.
Without expanding the grounds, Arlington would need to further restrict the criteria for burial, a notion that all parties present at Wednesday’s hearing seemed eager to avoid. Following the conclusion of the hearing, the senators would board a bus to get a better understanding of proposals to expand the grounds.
The hearing was Sen. Moran’s first as chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies:Image Credit: Josh Billinson/Independent Journal Review
Sen. Schatz is a Democrat and ranking member of the subcommittee. While Schatz and Moran are members of different parties, they both echoed the same sentiments on Wednesday:Image Credit: Josh Billinson/Independent Journal Review
As the Director of Engineering at Arlington National Cemetery, Col. Michael Peloquin walked the senators through the southern expansion plan:Image Credit: Josh Billinson/Independent Journal Review
“Envision this hillside covered in white headstones,” explained Col. Peloquin:Image Credit: Josh Billinson/Independent Journal Review
Col. Peloquin also used maps to further illustrate the plans for the senators:Image Credit: Josh Billinson/Independent Journal Review
“It’s my impression that good government has been taking place here,” remarked Sen. Moran towards the end of Wednesday’s hearing:Image Credit: Josh Billinson/Independent Journal Review
After grilling them on the specifics of their plans for the cemetery, Sen. Moran and Sen. Schatz posed for a photo with executive director Karen Durham-Aguilera and superintendent Katherine Kelley of Arlington National Cemetery:Image Credit: Josh Billinson/Independent Journal Review
Sen. Moran concluded his statement at Wednesday’s hearing by reading a hymn titled “Mansions of the Lord,” explaining that he first heard it performed by the U.S. Armed Forces Chorus at President Ronald Reagan’s memorial service in 2004.
“It is an honor to be here in a mansion of the Lord. Thank you for being the caretakers of it,” said Sen. Moran.