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The bond of service

The bond of service

We frequently hear about a generation gap between older veterans, and Post-9/11 veterans and those currently serving. We’re told that those serving now have different interests than those of us who put on the uniform a few decades ago. And we’re told that The American Legion really doesn’t have anything to offer someone serving today or getting ready to transition out of the military.

We know none of that is true. We know that there is a generation-spanning bond that comes from military service. There is a connection, whether you fought in the Battle of the Bulge or the Second Battle of Fallujah.

That connection couldn’t be more evident at Paul W. Airey American Legion Post 392 in Panama City, Fla. The post, which was chartered just six years ago, has dozens of members who either are on active duty or just recently left the military.

And they aren’t just names on a list. They come to post meetings. They’re serving in leadership roles. They volunteer to help with programs and fundraisers. And they share the message, mission and value of The American Legion with their fellow active-duty solders.

Legionnaire Mike Kirchoff, who helped start the post, is retired from a 38-year career with the Air Force. He actually still lives on Tyndall Air Force Base in Panama City, where he routinely suggests base personnel just stop by the post to hang out and relax. He also encourages them to bring their spouses and children.

“Being family oriented and family friendly has increased our membership,” Kirchoff said. “You can bring your children down here and you know they’re safe.”

At the post, the active-duty members have discovered a home away from home. Tech. Sgt. George Robinson, 29, says the post gives him a sense of camaraderie he hadn’t felt since he was stationed overseas. He also knows where to turn if he ever needs any kind of help. “I needed something, anybody in this post would step up to help me, without question,” he said.

Robinson’s view of the post is the norm, not the exception. Other members still serving in the military – many still in their 30s – throw out words like “mentoring,” “life lessons” and “support” when they talk about what they get from the post.

It helps that Post 392’s older members aren’t afraid to put the younger members in leadership positions. The post’s historian is 34; the Legion Riders assistant director is 31-year-old Alex Hill, who served in the Air Force from 2003 to 2007.

The younger generation of veterans, and those still serving, want to be a part of something when they join an organization. They want to feel like they’re making a difference. That’s what’s going on at Post 392. New members aren’t being told to sit down and wait their turn to make a difference. They’re getting their shot to make a difference right away.

That is the blueprint for appealing to younger members. Use that common bond of service to show them what the Legion is all about, and then give them a chance to help with that mission.

It’s working at Post 392.

To read more about Post 392, go online to www.legion.org/membership/226976/best-people-youre-ever-going-find.