Kentucky Guard Chaplain grows trees, spirit

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Maj. Jerry Shacklett is a Kentucky Army National Guard chaplain as well as a founding member of Kentucky Chapter of the American Chestnut Foundation. He stands watch over a blight resistant American Chestnut seedling that was planted during a recent Earth Day ceremony at Boone National Guard Center in Frankfort.

FRANKFORT, Ky. (May 9, 2011) –  Like most members of the Kentucky National Guard, Maj. Jerry Shacklett wears many hats.  As an Army chaplain with the 149th Maneuver Enhanced Brigade, he is responsible for the morale and spirit of the Soldiers he serves.  As a founding member of the Kentucky chapter of The American Chestnut Foundation he seeks to replenish the forests of state he loves so much.

The American Chestnut Foundation was founded in 1983 in response to the demise of the American chestnut tree due to a blight that hit North America in the early part of the first half of the 20th century.  Shacklett discovered that Kentucky was severely impacted by the blight, so after joining the national foundation he decided to help set up a chapter in Kentucky.

“I was a seminary student at the time,” he said.  “And being a chaplain I thought, restoration, that’s a cool thing, right?  Well, that really fits with what I do all the way around.”

Shacklett explained that the American Chestnut is often called “the redwood of the east” because of its resistance to rot.  The wood’s long lasting properties made it valuable in building homes and in use as telegraph poles. A blight over the past century has put the chestnut tree at risk.  Shacklett laments the loss.

“If you look at old pictures of people standing next to chestnut trees you see that they looked about like redwoods in size,” said Shacklett.  “It’s just a majestic tree.”

Shacklett’s optimism goes beyond bringing beauty to the Bluegrass State.  “If we do restore the American Chestnut down the way, that’ll make a huge impact on the lumber industry,” he said.

Shacklett has been a Soldier for 25 years. He is currently preparing for his second deployment to Iraq.  He doesn’t expect to see a lot of trees.

“You definitely get an appreciation for trees when you go to the Middle East,” he said.

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