A documentary developed by a Legionnaire and a Sons of The American Legion member that spotlights both Arizona World War I veterans and the formation of the Legion has begun screening in venues across the state.
Will Williams and Thomas S. Perry are the creators of “Arizona Heroes of World War I,” a documentary in 15 chapters that covers the stories of the individuals behind the war. After meeting with the Department of Arizona in 2015, the duo decided to work in content on the Legion, its formation and some of the people behind that.
In November, the first public screening of the documentary was held in Tucson. “With the premiere of the film,” Perry says, “the Department of Arizona is gearing up to advance our Centennial Celebration, remembrance of the end to World War I, and launching and expanding our marketing and branding campaign.” Central to that is a Facebook promotion campaign that includes three-minute film segments and PSAs on the Legion; it has garnered 43,000 views and 70,000 postings.
Several more screenings have taken place across Arizona since the Tucson event. Attendance averages between 60 and 75. Williams and Perry actively solicit comments from viewers; one 16-year-old stated, “I never knew history could be this rad!” Another viewer added, “We are so happy we came. We never knew that Arizona was so involved and had so many real heroes.”
American Legion leadership, including department commander candidate Steve Aguirre and Department Area A Vice Commander Ben Headen, have also attended events, of which more are planned.
The 2018 request for funds from the Overseas Grave Decoration Trust Fund is closed. All funds for 2018 have been disbursed, and no further requests for funds will be honored.
This year, Emblem Sales will not send your flags automatically; you have to request them.
Keep an eye on the FODPAL page for news about the opening of next year’s fund request.
If anyone has any questions, feel free to contact me at email@example.com.
For 11 years, Daniel W. Dowling American Legion Post 769 in Ambler, Pa., has conducted a ceremony to honor the birthday and memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. This year, the post wanted to make sure a group of high school students understood both the work of King while honoring area veterans.
Following the post’s annual Martin Luther King Junior Day breakfast, Legionnaires from Post 769 and students from Wissahickon High School went to area retirement homes to visit with veterans now living there.
“It starts with a breakfast where we talk about Dr. Martin Luther King … and his good works,” Post 769 Adjutant Warren Barnhart said. “But we’ve also tried to make it a day of service toward others. We’ve tried to grow the event from just being a recognition day … giving proper recognition of the importance of the day while adding a service-related act.”
For the second year in a row, Bill Anderson – a reporter with Fox 29 in Philadelphia – both attended and covered the event for his television station. Anderson said in his coverage the event was “a visualization of Dr. King’s dream: Various races and ages all together to continue his legacy, and all us exploring how to make sure – even now, 50 years removed – that Dr. King’s message isn’t compromised.”
Barnhart said that getting Anderson to attend last year’s event “was a very big accomplishment for us. This year he was very interested in being a part of it again.”
Post 769 has been a mainstay in its community for decades. Founded in 1945 by a group of 18 African-American veterans returning from World War II, Post 769 is named for the first African-American from the area to volunteer for Civil War service with the Union Army’s 24th US Colored Troop Infantry Regiment. Years later, Dowling’s son Charles became the first African-American in the area to be drafted for service in World War I.
Thanks to its strong presence in the community, Post 769 is able to get sponsors for the breakfast, including individuals, community organizations and local businesses. This year’s MLK Day event started with a breakfast attended by 400 people at Normandy Farm Hotel and Conference Center that also serves as a fundraiser for Post 769’s Dowling Scholarship program. This year, the post gave away three $3,500 college scholarships to local students; Barnhart expects to award more next year.
“We’re a very small post of about 100 active members,” Barnhart said. “Last year we raised about $13,000. This year we’re trying to hit $20,000. We’re trying to grow it, and we really put a lot of effort into it. But we’re having a lot of fun doing it.”
Later in the day, members of the post teamed up with the local students to visit veterans living in area retirement facilities. Post 769 Commander Mark Futch told Fox 29 that the goal of having the high school students meet with the veterans was “to come out here, which they probably wouldn’t have done without (Post 769), without this day, and to talk to others that are not like them in the community, to see that we’re all the same.”
Brianna Robinson, a student at Wissahickon High School, told Fox 29 that even though she and none of her fellow students were alive to see King’s work, “Going to see the veterans at the post and then coming to (the retirement home) to visit, you feel the significance of the event.”
To watch video from this year's event, click here.
World War II veteran William E. Price, commander of American Legion Post 257 in Laguna Woods, Calif., stepped to the microphone to tell his story, from newly discharged U.S. Army Air Corps electrical mechanic in 1946 to aerospace engineer whose work on the Voyager program to this day sends data back to earth from intergalactic space.
Recent UCLA graduate and Student Veterans of America member, 36-year-old Donnie Stiles told how when he first enlisted in the Marine Corps, “I was not mature enough for college.” That changed when he got out and realized the opportunity military service had given him.
American Legion Department of California Commander Robert Heinisch said education benefits were a driving force behind the decisions of his two sons, both combat veterans, to serve in the U.S. armed forces.
U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Raymond Jackson, who commands Maritime Safety Security Team Los Angeles-Long Beach, described the GI Bill as “a tangible way to say thank you for your service.”
They were among dozens of veterans who gathered Wednesday at Bob Hope Patriotic Hall in the nation’s second-largest city, home of Los Angeles County Military & Veterans Services, for the opening of “The Greatest Legislation: An American Legion Centennial Salute to the GI Bill.” The traveling multi-media exhibit is on its third stop in a tour that began last June at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans.
American Legion National Headquarters Executive Director Verna Jones described Patriotic Hall – known as a “living” veterans memorial facility that features a broad gamut of services and programs – as “a fitting place for The American Legion’s centennial salute … In a very real sense, the GI Bill is also a living memorial to veterans and all who have taken the oath to defend our nation in uniform.
“As a symbol of The American Legion’s centennial, the GI Bill holds a sacred place,” Jones said at the opening of a panel discussion moderated by American Legion Past National Commander David K. Rehbein, chairman of the organization’s 100th Anniversary Observance Committee. “It spans from The American Legion founders who wrote it – men and women who came home to no VA services, limited health care and bleak economic hope – to the post-9/11 generation, so many of whom chose military service as a springboard in careers that make America the strongest economy on the planet.”
It was not always that way, explained Dr. Jennifer Keene of Chapman University, a distinguished scholar of World War I and its effects. When the veterans of the First World War came home from their battlefields and duty stations, “they got $60 in separation allowance. They could wear their uniform home. They got train tickets.”
The American Legion grew quickly to prominence in its first decade by working to change the way wartime veterans should be treated by the federal government after discharge. “Veterans almost immediately turned to the new American Legion and joined The American Legion in great numbers – this was a World War I organization – looking for someone they could trust,” she explained.
Among the early Legion’s first orders of business, Keene told those gathered for the panel discussion in Patriotic Hall’s historic auditorium, was to make the case for “adjusted compensation” and to not define it as a pension program, which had been politically controversial and economically challenging for the government after the Civil War. Adjusted compensation was meant to reimburse World War I veterans for lost economic opportunity while they were serving in uniform while at the same time incomes were climbing and companies were profiteering due to the war.
“Adjusted compensation was a different argument,” she said. “During the war, there had been a boom, and wartime workers had made high wages, and war profiteers had made high profits. The American Legion argued that it was unfair to take soldiers out of their daily lives and pay them $30 while essentially everybody on the home front was making out. They had lost the opportunity to get ahead in their civilian lives.”
A 20-year bond, payable in 1945, was the compromise from the federal government. The Depression, however, intervened, and when veterans marched on Washington for earlier payment of the bonuses, The American Legion began to envision a different future for military veterans, some 16 million of whom would soon serve in World War II.
The GI Bill was built on that future. Drafted by The American Legion and fiercely defended through to passage as the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, the so-called “GI Bill of Rights” revolutionized not only military service but U.S. economy and culture.
Among its effects, as portrayed in the exhibit, were democratization of higher education, reasonable readjustment compensation for those returning to civilian careers, a decent VA hospital system, the expectation of home ownership by average Americans, the ability to appeal conditions of discharge from branches of service and an incentive so great that the United States could become an all-volunteer force, as it has been for more than 40 years.
“The American Legion had the right idea,” explained John Kamin, U.S. Army veteran of the war in Iraq and an assistant director for the Legion’s national Employment and Education Division. “This was the paradigm shift that resulted in the 20th century economy.” Low-interest home loans through the GI Bill, Kamin explained, “literally changed the face of the country.”
Education benefits, home loans and the promise of a decent health-care system remain among the top reasons young people choose to begin their adult lives by serving in uniform, Lt. Cmdr. Jackson said. Most often, that choice proves successful.
“It’s an excellent tool,” Jackson explained. “A lot of young men and women, when they graduate from high school, they may not have the grades they thought they were going to have, and they may not have the finances they thought they were going to have, available to them. Having the GI Bill available to present to young men and women to enter the Coast Guard is an excellent recruiting tool … A lot of people will come into the Coast Guard for the GI Bill, and that’s the only thing they see. When they leave, they leave with integrity. They leave with training. They leave with respect from the community.”
Dr. Keene made the point that GI Bill-educated veterans have come home from service to contribute not only to the economy but to their local communities, which through the years has changed the way the public perceives veterans in general. “It has impacted millions of people,” she said. “It’s a way that investing in the veteran really helps us all.”
“The GI Bill was the only reason, I can honestly say, that encouraged me and gave me what I needed to finish at the junior college level and go on to the university and finish,” said Hugh Crooks Jr., vice chairman of the California Veterans Board and former American Legion National Executive Committeeman, a retired law-enforcement officer. “That’s why I have an undergraduate degree now.”
Without the Vietnam War GI Bill, Crooks said, “there would have been a lot of people who would not have had that opportunity at all.”
The original legislation nearly failed in June 1944 when a conference committee was deadlocked on a 3-3 vote until American Legion leaders led a frantic search for Rep. John Gibson of Georgia, who represented the swing vote to pull the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act out of committee. Gibson, who was rushed from rural Georgia through a rainstorm in the middle of the night to cast the swing vote, is rightfully remembered as an essential figure in the bill’s passage.
Attending the event Wednesday at Patriotic Hall was David Gibson, a member of American Legion Post 43 in Hollywood and Rep. Gibson’s great nephew. “My grandfather’s brother helped save the GI Bill and helped make it happen,” said David Gibson, first vice commander of California’s American Legion District 24. “Of course, being a veteran, I appreciate that.”
He remembers personally the struggle of working and going to school full time as he was starting a family after military service in 1975. “Every little bit helps,” he said. “I think it’s only appropriate. Some gave all, and all gave some, but to be able to use that benefit not just for education but for housing, even the benefits you get if you have health issues … it’s the least our country can do. It’s the least the government can do for those who put their life on the line.”
The panel discussion explored changes to the Post-9/11 GI Bill’s latest reboot, the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017, known at the “Forever GI Bill” because it lifts restrictions on the span of time a veteran has to use the benefits. The act, signed in August by President Trump, was supported by The American Legion, which also provided guidance to keep it valuable for new generations. Kamin noted that the GI Bill is frequently in need of revision to keep up with changes in higher education and the economy but also to keep the benefits package from getting watered down over time.
“It’s a responsibility that lives on in all of us,” Rehbein said of the pride and stewardship The American Legion feels about the GI Bill and the need to continuously revisit it.
To that point, added Crooks, as he studied the exhibit panels in Patriotic Hall: “We cannot educate people enough on that.”
Jacob Mussi knew college was in his future. What he didn’t know was how to pay for it.
While searching for opportunities to make college attainable, Mussi came across The American Legion’s Legacy Scholarship. Mussi’s father, a disabled post-9/11 veteran, made him eligible to apply.
Last May, Mussi received an email that announced he was a 2017 American Legion Legacy Scholarship recipient. Upon seeing the email, Mussi and his father “went nuts. It blew my mind,” Mussi said. “I went from thinking I was going to have $200,000 in student loans to thinking that … this is going to work out. I can invest in my future.
“My father (Charles) can’t afford to fund my college so he was overwhelmed with joy. A potential burden has been swept out of the way.”
The scholarship is allowing Mussi, a physics student at Boston University, to focus on his academics rather than “focusing on financing them,” he said. “Having that steady stream of support is fundamental to making the college experience work. Because of help from The American Legion Legacy Scholarship and other scholarships, I have a lot of freedom that people in my age group don’t typically have because of restraint of finances.”
The Legacy Scholarship is available for children of veterans who died on active duty since Sept. 11, 2001, or have a combined VA disability rating of 50 percent or higher. Recipients of the renewable needs based scholarship can receive up to $20,000 each year. The application deadline for the 2018-2019 school year is April 9. Apply online here.
To learn more about the scholarship, visit www.legion.org/scholarships/legacy/about.
Following graduation from Boston University, Mussi hopes to pursue his doctorate and make a noteworthy contribution in his field of study. His determination to succeed in life is an attribute that he learned from his father’s military service, he said. And as a child of a military veteran, Mussi appreciates that The American Legion continues to support veterans and their families long after the servicemember takes off the uniform.
“Thank you goes without saying. Thank you so much,” Mussi said. “When you have a cause that’s important like (The American Legion Legacy Scholarship), just taking not only time out of your day but money out of your wallet to support somebody else’s problems is a type of generosity that I hope to have someday.”
Today, the U.S. Mint opened sales for the 2018 World War I Centennial Silver Dollar. The new coin honors the 100th anniversary of U.S. participation in World War I.
A ceremonial "first purchase" of the coin was made at U.S. Mint Headquarters by retired Army Col. Gerald York, grandson of famous World War I hero Sgt. Alvin York. He made the first purchase at the Mint's lobby gift shop in Washington, D.C.
On hand for the event was Acting Deputy Director of the U.S. Mint David Motl, who expressed his support for the coin's mission, saying, "This new coin gives us all a symbol that we can hold in our hands, a way for us to directly participate in the World War I centennial period."
Terry Hamby, chairman of the U.S. World War One Centennial Commission, agreed. "These veterans should be remembered," he said. "During World War I, nearly 5 million American men and women placed their lives on hold. Many deployed to places that most had never visited, to fight for the freedom of people they never met. They did not do this for personal gain. They did it solely to bring peace to the world.”
The World War I Centennial Silver Dollar was authorized by statute in 2014 with bipartisan congressional support. Sponsors of the legislation included Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II, D-Mo., and Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo.
Speaking for the co-sponsors, Lamborn said, "The World War I centennial coin honors the sacrifice of more than 4 million Americans who served in uniform, and more than 100,000 who gave their lives. As we approach the 100th anniversary of the armistice marking the end of World War I, this coin serves as an appropriate tribute to veterans who made America and the world a safer place to live.”
The obverse design of the collectible silver dollar is titled “Soldier’s Charge” and depicts an almost stone-like soldier gripping a rifle. Barbed wire twines are featured in the lower right-hand side of the design. The wire design element continues onto the reverse side in a design titled “Poppies in the Wire,” which features abstract poppies mixed in with barbed wire. Barbed wire was part of the trench warfare of World War I, and poppies are the symbolic flower of veteran remembrance, a tradition that began during the war.
The designer of the collectible coin was Leroy Transfield of Oren, Utah, and the sculptor was Donald Eberhart. The secretary of the Treasury selected the winning coin design following an open design competition in 2016. It was judged by a six-member jury comprised of three members each from the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts and Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee, and chaired by the Treasury secretary’s designee.
Surcharges from the sale of these coins are authorized to be paid to the U.S. Foundation for the Commemoration of the World Wars to assist the U.S. World War One Centennial Commission in commemorating the war's centenary.
The mission of the U.S. World War One Centennial Commission is public outreach and education about American involvement in the war. The commission was authorized by Congress to create the new National World War I Memorial in Washington, D.C. The memorial will be located at Pershing Park on Pennsylvania Avenue and 14th Street NW, a block from the White House. The commission receives no taxpayer funding.
The World War I Centennial Silver Dollar will be produced in limited quantities, and will be available for purchase online through Dec. 28, 2018.
The U.S. Mint has also created special companion medals honoring each of the military branches that served in World War I. They will be available from the Mint as part of five different World War I silver dollar and medal sets. Information on these sets is online here.
The lobby gift shop at the Mint Headquarters, 801 9th St. NW, Washington, is open to the public. The sales counter conducts business from 10 a.m. to 5:45 p.m. Monday through Friday and is closed on federal holidays.
Some dates are forever ingrained. Dec. 7, 1941. Nov. 22, 1963. Sept. 11, 2001. But for many people in Puerto Rico, Sept. 20, 2017, is the date that changed everything.
Hurricane Maria, a high intensity Category 4 hurricane, landed on the U.S. territory and wreaked a path of destruction unprecedented in the island’s long dynamic history. The death toll there ranged from an official count of 58 to estimates exceeding 500. The storm’s deadly path inflicted an estimated $100 billion of damage on the already economically-challenged island.
“Unfortunately, we were not able to drive semi-trucks loaded with supplies to Puerto Rico as we did for the people of Texas and Florida after hurricanes hit those states,” American Legion National Commander Denise H. Rohan said Tuesday, while touring The American Legion Department of Puerto Rico. “But the people here are every bit as much a part of The American Legion Family. And families take care of each other in time of need.”
Rohan’s official visit has taken her to American Legion posts in Carolina, Arecibo, Camuy and Adjuntas. She visited staff, volunteers and patients at the VA Community-Based Outpatient Clinic in Ponce. And she will close out the week visiting Legion Family members in St. Thomas and St. John, islands also hit hard during the past hurricane season.
“I want to know what you need so I can bring your stories to Congress when I testify on the hill next month,” she told Legion Family members and VA officials.
According to National Executive Committeeman Angel O. Narvaez, money is what is needed most. “Early on, deliveries were very difficult,” he said. “By the time the postal service was straightened out, many of the essential supplies were already provided by FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Organization) and other organizations. But people still need to rebuild, which is why it is so important for people to donate to the (Legion's) National Emergency Fund. And it’s important that Americans everywhere know that we thank them for their support and prayers. Our brothers and sisters in the states are always in our prayers as well.”
Since the hurricane hti Puerto Rico, The American Legion National Emergency Fund has awarded more than $61,000 in grants to the department, the Legion’s Operation Comfort Warriors program donated $20,000 in gift cards to the region’s VA patients during Rohan's visit, and $15,500 in American Legion Temporary Financial Assistance has been distributed to meet the basic needs for children of Legion-eligible veterans. Departments and posts across the United States have also donated generously to the Department of Puerto Rico.
Although asking for assistance from the American Legion Family has not been a top priority for many of the storm victims, more aid is certain to come.
“I want my members provided for first, I’ll do my NEF application last,” said Post 6 Vice Commander Rafel Mendez. “I am very proud of these people. They are very resilient. We will rebuild."
Content provided courtesy of USAA.
The challenge for military affiliated students — active military members, members of the Guard or Reserve, veterans or military spouses — is to find good, cost-effective, and sought-after degrees from respectable higher education institutions that will professionally and financially advance their careers and their family happiness.
Assess Your Life & Family Stage.
Getting a college or advanced degree needs to start with an honest assessment if you have the time, energy, and passion to get a degree when viewed with all of your other work, family, and life commitments. If you have small children, are getting ready to move, or have an elderly parent, now might not be the best time to get a higher education degree. This personal assessment of your readiness to complete a degree is vital to your financial success. Educational debt among people without a completed higher education degree can leave you worse off financially.
Find Some Educational Role Models.
For a degree to become meaningful, military affiliated students need to have a person or persons they can model their educational aspirations around. Educational role models point the way to higher education institutions that can help develop military affiliated students into the leaders and professions that they want to have.
Extensively Plan Your Financial Readiness for Education.
Meeting with the college registrar, educational counselors, financial aid counselors, student career office, and academic advisors takes a great deal of time, but all of these meetings are necessary. The goal is to discover a school and a major that has a strong marketplace need, is something that you are passionately interested in, and to see if your academic career can be completed in as short a time as possible. Financially, you should complete your educational goal with a financial goal of no more than $3000-$4000 in debt a year and no more than $15,000 educational debt for your degree. Educational debt is a killer of post-college success because it hurts your ability to truly find a career that you like and to finance after graduation items such as a house.
Apply to 3 to 4 Schools That Meet Your Criteria With a Focus On Educational Outcomes.
A focus on higher education outcomes that schools actually produce is the only way to cut through the school’s marketing and advertising information to determine what your expected financial outcome will be from your degree.
There are eight critical data elements to focus on to assess how well a school prepares you for an improved professional and financial life. They are:
Educational Complaint Count — the number of educational complaints against the school that may signal collapse or accreditation issues.
Retention Rate of BA Students — the percentage of students who continue their education at the college.
Undergraduate Enrollment — Higher is better to the larger size of alumni in related career fields.
Average Salary Following Graduation.
Average Student Loan Debt.
Graduation Rate of All Students.
Student Loan Repayment Rate All Students.
The goal is to find a collection of physical schools that meet the majority of the criteria above. In short, you want to find the school that costs the lowest amount, graduates their students on time, gets students employed, and then has graduates leave school with a low amount of debt. This is a tall order, but one that numbers of colleges through the United States perform on an annual basis.
Stay The Course & Graduate On Time.
College is hard, graduating school is hard, and so are other professional programs. When you make the choice to start and / or finish your degree, make that commitment that no matter what happens, you will finish. Degree completion is the secret to post college success.
Derek Israel was seeking an opportunity to join a veterans service organization and provide community service. He applied to two major VSOs and had very different experiences.
“I became a member of one but I never went to a meeting, and I never renewed my membership because I was never contacted by anyone,” recalls Israel, who was a police officer after leaving the service. “Whereas, The American Legion did. They followed up with me and said, ‘Hey, we want you to be a member of the post.’”
That’s thanks to the membership efforts put forth by American Legion Travis Post 76 in Austin, Texas. Past Department, District and Post Commander Walter Ivie and others are making a concerted effort to draw veterans from all war eras, but focusing on those from the Desert Storm and Gulf War eras.
“We've always been welcoming for veterans,” Ivie said. “For the last 20 years, we have been successful in getting Desert Storm veterans. Most of our officers now are Desert Storm or later veterans, but we're all dedicated to getting more young veterans. Recently we started going out, hanging door hangers, and asking people face-to-face to join The American Legion, join the post.”
During his time as department commander, Ivie worked with district commanders to revitalize membership and create new posts. A strong membership is critical to the Legion at every level, Ivie noted.
“You need to join The American Legion to support the efforts that we have in standing up for veterans,” he said. “You need to lend your voice to my voice and other voices so we can exercise the influence in Congress, influence in the state where we defended Hinson and Hazlewood (Texas’ version of the GI Bill). We’ve got to have a sufficient voice to get their attention, and just joining The American Legion gives us that voice. There's no question that The American Legion is the voice of veterans. The American Legion has the influence to accomplish things like the forever GI Bill.”
While Post 76 is active in its community, its historic building has been a draw for many members. The city historian says the building – the Charles Johnson House — dates back to the 1830s, which makes it older than the city of Austin itself. During the Civil War, the building was used as a hospital.
The post bought the building and relocated there in 1924. There is not a bar but alcoholic drinks may be served during events. Those events are the main source of revenue for the post to provide services, donations and other assistance to veterans and the community.
After Israel joined the post in 2005, he became second vice commander, the position in charge of overseeing the post’s buildings and grounds. “At that time, our cash flow wasn't real good so we really required getting things back on track to start that process of being positive,” he said.
He credits Ivie’s leadership and financial know-how with helping the post become fiscally solid.
“Walter has some very unique abilities,” said Israel, who has also served two terms as post commander. “To me, me personally, he's been a mentor. From the time I joined the post he has helped me to understand how things have worked in the past, what we've done in the past that's worked, what hasn't worked, what we haven't figured out. In addition, he's a financial guru. He brings a financial focus and discipline to the post.”
Ivie’s approach inspired Israel to act.
“I came into a position where he said, ‘You know, here's some things I think will help us straighten out the cash flow what really have been resistant in the past,’” Israel recalls. “And he didn't say, ‘You have to do it this way.’ We went from a negative cash flow to where we are today, where we have an extremely healthy cash flow and a lot of money in the bank that we have earmarked for some big capital improvements here at the post.”
One of those changes is refurbishing a lounge into a theater-style room for movie nights.
“People’s interests change over time,” said Johnny Irvin, post historian. “Different generations have different needs. The young veterans today they're raising families. They're working jobs. They're not retired. We're building an actual family theater room, so we can have family time for the veterans. Veterans don't want to just go to some place to be with just veterans, they want their families to be included.”
Plans also include a pavilion so the post can host barbecues with bands and outdoor dancing on the lawn.
“There's a lot of things that we're changing so that the new generation of veterans have a place to go with their families and still get that comradeship that you miss when you leave the military,” he said. “The American Legion, I find, is just one big huge family. You're always welcomed, appreciated as a brother and sister. It’s what we show. It's what we do. We take care of each other and take care of the veterans, and we want these new guys to understand they have a place to go.”
Another addition to the property will be a veterans park that the city is planning. The post will host the park at the front of its property with the stately building overseeing it.
“Any time the city or the county does anything that deals with veterans' issues, they come to this post for input,” said 10-year post member John McKinney. “The city is putting a veterans' park right down below the post here. So they've come to us to get our input on what it should look like, and what plans, and should it match the décor of our post and make sure that it's going to fit in with our location.”
All of the upcoming enhancements are planned to welcome current and future generations of veterans. But post members know that’s only part of the recruiting equation. In order to attract and retain members like Israel, a personal touch is needed.
“Ask them if they used the GI Bill. Ask them if they go to the VA,” Ivie says, explaining his recruiting pitch to prospective members. “All of these things were started by The American Legion, all of them are being maintained and supported by The American Legion. The young veteran needs to join just to get his or her voice, just to give us the influence to continue to support veterans.”
Though not affiliated, the Association of the United States Army (AUSA) relied on the Army for membership recruitment. However, a few years ago the Army stopped recruiting for AUSA due to various reasons and with no recruitment plan in place, AUSA began to see a rapid decline in membership.
In 2017, with 62,000 members, AUSA put forth a challenge to its 121 chapters nationwide to reach 100,000 members by yearend. Today, AUSA stands at 116,000 members.
AUSA is a nonprofit military service organization that supports America’s Army (active, National Guard, reserve, civilians and family members) through training, scholarships, being a voice and more. Retired Lt. Gen. Patricia E. McQuistion, vice president of membership and meetings for AUSA and a member of American Legion Post 251 in Georgia, spoke to members of the Legion’s Membership & Post Activities Committee on Jan. 12 about ways the association exceeded its membership goal.
“We understand service to nation. We understand volunteerism. We understand that our association has a lot in common with The American Legion,” McQuistion said. “And we know through research that sometimes you have to ask people seven to 12 times to join. That’s one of the hardest things our volunteer leaders do … asking somebody to join.”
Membership recruitment and retention is the fifth tactic on the Legion’s strategic membership plan. With 16 million veterans eligible for Legion membership, McQuistion said if someone says no to joining the first time you ask, it’s not a rejection of you or The American Legion. “So don’t be afraid to go after them seven to 12 times,” she said.
Besides just asking potential members to join AUSA, other recruitment efforts that the association adopted included:
• Started a “Get One More” campaign and made it easy for new members to join online (https://www.ausa.org/). With this they used every event they were at as a membership recruitment opportunity. “I take it as a personal mission everywhere I go to get at least one person to sign up,” McQuistion said.
• Revamped membership fees. McQuistion said about 32 percent of the new recruits were of the younger generation of veterans and servicemembers. So AUSA created a special discount of a $10 membership fee for an Army E4 rank, Army civilians and ROTC cadets. They too created a two-year membership fee of $40 or five-year for $75 as a way to make retention easier.
• Connected with like-minded organizations. AUSA currently has relationship with six other associations, such as the Warrant Officers Association, as a way to not only attract new members but to gain a better understanding of the needs and issues of those servicemembers and to be a voice for them as well.
Past National Commander Dave Rehbein reflected on how the Legion can team up with like-minded organizations, such as Team Red, White and Blue, Team Rubicon, Summit for Soldiers or Student Veterans of America. “This new generation of veterans want to do things. They don’t want to sit in a meeting and hear about what’s being done. They want to be part of what’s being done,” Rehbein said. “So if we can use some of these organizations to bring in new members, I think we gain more than just new members – we gain active members.”
• Created a membership benefits pamphlet. The pamphlet makes it easy for volunteers to answer the question, “Why should I join AUSA?” It lists membership benefits, such as a subscription to ARMY Magazine that AUSA publishes, and features an infographic on the three reasons to join: give, get, save. “Give your time, talent and expertise; get representation with Congress and on Capitol Hill, access to professional development and education offerings, and scholarship opportunities; and save on exclusive AUSA benefits.”
McQuistion also shared that more than 85 percent of those who serve today entered the service after 9/11. This generation of veterans, she said, want to make a positive difference in their communities. “Young veterans today have families and jobs, but they are looking for ways to engage on their own terms. So when you ask a veteran or servicemember to join, get them involved at some level, make them feel a part of the organization,” McQuistion said.
“We have to be voices for our service people and their families so that more American’s understand not just the sacrifices but just the commitment of these people to serve our nation.”