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(Courtesy of the Jacksonville Business Journal) — A chance encounter — and a long-standing role in Puerto Rico’s supply chain — provided the opportunity for Jacksonville-based Crowley Solutions to play a pivotal role in honoring those who have served in the military.

Jerome Thomas, a manager in Crowley’s supplier management department attended a conference in early 2019 and bumped into officials with the nonprofit Wreaths Across America, which arranges for wreaths to be placed on the headstones of veterans.

They got to talking, and by the end of the year, Crowley Solutions was sending a few thousand balsam wreaths from Columbia Falls, Maine to Puerto Rico. Crowley continued its commitment this year by sending more than 2,800 wreaths to the island.

“We asked them what their biggest need was,” Thomas recalled. “They told us Puerto Rico was one of their most underserved markets. Puerto Rico is a very close community to Crowley. We have a lot of team members and a lot of customers. We wanted to step up and see how we can assist. In years past, they have only been able to get 600 to 800 wreaths to the island because of the costs.”

National Wreaths Across America day is Dec. 19.

The event traces its roots to an act of service Morrill Worcester made in 1992. Worcester owned a wreath company in Maine and placed excess wreaths on infrequently visited headstones in Arlington National Cemetery.

In the years since, a nonprofit was created, and wreaths are now laid at more than 2,100 locations in the United States and its territories. Crowley also transported more than 3,200 wreaths that will be laid at Jacksonville National Cemetery this weekend.

Because they’re perishable, the wreaths — which Crowley ships for free — have to be moved in a refrigerated container.

Crowley has deep ties with the military.

Earlier this year, the company earned the HIRE Vets Platinum Medallion from the U.S. Department of Labor. The company was one of four in Northeast Florida, and among 675 companies nationwide, to receive the designation.

Sal Menoyo, Crowley Logistics’ vice president for Puerto Rico and the Caribbean, said there are veterans in every level of the supply chain. He added participating in the Wreaths Across America program was the company’s way to express thanks.

“Crowley has been the longest-serving us shipping line to Puerto Rico,” Menoyo said. “This is our way of showing our commitment to the people of Puerto Rico, to the military community that lives and is part of our supply chain.”

The wreaths Crowley transported to Puerto Rico will be placed on headstones at Puerto Rico National Cemetery as well as Atlantic Gardens Veterans Cemetery.

Thomas was able to accompany the wreaths to Puerto Rico last year. He was on hand when hundreds were laid at Puerto Rico National Cemetery.

The Covid-19 pandemic prevented him from doing the same this year. But Thomas watched with satisfaction as more than 2,500 wreaths made their way onto El Coqui to make the two-day trip from Jacksonville to Puerto Rico.

“It was quite possibly one of the best experiences I have ever had,” Thomas recalled. “It smelled like Christmas for miles. Our equipment was able to keep those wreaths in pristine condition. When they arrived, it was a great experience for everyone around.”

Photo courtesy Crowley Transportation.