America is known as the land of the free, a land of opportunities. I dreamt about it when I was a little boy in Hong Kong. I learned about it when I was a youngster going through the schools in New York City. I defended it when I was a young man marching off to serve my country. And today I firmly believe it as I accept the opportunity to serve the 2.4 million members of The American Legion and the 24 million veterans of this great nation. I am humbled and honored.
To our veterans of World War II and Korea, allow me to quote one of our American Legion founders, Vahan Dukemejian, who at the age of 101, said, "We have outgrown our bodies but not our minds and our hearts."
He was telling us that Legionnaires have paid in blood for our rights, especially the right to freely express our voices, on behalf of the veterans we serve. It is our continuing job to never let the government forget their responsibility to all who have served our nation, regardless of the war era, in defense of our freedoms and unparalleled way of life.
To my fellow Vietnam War veterans, first, let me say, "Welcome Home!"
Much has happened over the half-century that has passed since the start of the war. We all know the numbers: 3.4 million deployed to Southeast Asia, 2.7 million served in the designated war zone, more than 58,000 killed in the theater of operations (4,120 from my home state of New York alone), 153,000 wounded and nearly 2,000 still unaccounted for three decades later.
We also know how some of us were treated upon our return. We all heard the cries of the anti-war crowd. Some of us even suffered through a lack of acceptance by older veterans. We also know the deadly effects of Agent Orange as it kicks in 40 plus years after exposure in Vietnam. Some wounds will never heal. Most of us will never forget the way veterans were treated as they came home from the war and as they fought for recognition of their unique war-related health problems in the years that followed.
As the largest bloc of veterans represented in this organization today, those of us who served in Vietnam are duty-bound to ensure the same mistakes will not happen to the next generation of veterans. It is our duty to uphold and defend the rights and benefits of today's new generation of wartime veterans and welcome them into The American Legion with open arms. They are the future of our organization.
To the newest generation of veterans, let me start by saying "For God and Country....GERONIMO!" What a great moment it was last May when U.S. Navy SEALs took down the perpetrator of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. This was an extraordinary success in the global war on terror that has been so well prosecuted by our active-duty military forces, fewer than 2 million troops tasked to defend more than 300 million Americans and many more millions of others in the world. It is a credit to the skill, loyalty and dedication of our Armed Forces that the world has been freed of tyrants and terrorists like Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. Our military has protected us at home throughout this war and delivered hope for peace and prosperity for millions who have never had it. This generation of military personnel proudly took its place at the tip of the spear to do this.
As your commander, my biggest task is to represent and advocate on your behalf, all the policies and programs adopted by this convention and the NECs. I promise you that I will, to the best of my ability, support and promote your wishes. Working together with National Auxiliary President Kris Nelson, and the National Commander of the Sons of The American Legion, Jim Roberts, I know we'll be a strong team. We'll work hard together, and we'll make the family proud.
Some priorities we need to concentrate on this year:
Membership. We all know that training and leadership are two of the key ingredients for a successful organization. In order for the Legion to survive, we must develop and provide meaningful training so that we all can do our jobs better. We must establish a forum where communications can flow horizontally and vertically, so that experiences and lessons learned can be shared by all. We must develop leaders of the future. We must create an atmosphere of learning so that the Legion history and our worthwhile programs can be preserved for future generations.
During the recent membership workshop meetings, I asked that the department commanders, in addition to having a plan for their committed membership goal, to also review and consider the adoption of recommendations from The 21st Century Committee Report. There is a lot of good information in this report, and solutions that are accurate and valid for our situation today. I asked your commanders to start a process review concentrating on what's needed at each level of the organization to improve or rebuild your mode of operation. We need to know how we operate. We need everyone to understand why the Legion exists. We need to have our priorities in line with the Legion's four pillars. We need to do this at the post level, at the district level, or maybe even at the department level. To sum this up; we need to have a gut check, an attitude change, and a road map of how we should conduct business as we head into our centennial.Job Training and Employment. Opportunities for our returned heroes are key ingredients of our success. They deserve the full support of our nation as our veterans return to a normal life. We need to work hard with the Department of Labor and America's major employers to ensure the market place will consider and hire veterans, especially in the federal /state and local government sector.
Health Care. We must stay on top of both the DoD and VA, to ensure medical facilities are well-staffed and funded for those who require treatment. We will continue to study the PTS and TBI issue so that the best methods can be determined and provided to those in need.
Last year, The American Legion took the lead in conducting a Women Veterans Survey. The findings and results were released during the 2011 Washington Conference. We must now continue to focus on Women Veterans Programs and Issues. They deserve no less.
Military Families. The Family Support Network is one program we perform very well at almost any level, to help the families of those who defend our freedom. Especially in this time of tight budgets and reduced manpower, these families need our help more than ever. I ask that you continue your magnificent work in helping to care for military families. I also ask that you coordinate and document your activities so that we can collectively demonstrate and report to the DoD of our capabilities. As a VSO, we are relevant in this issue, and they must understand this.
Veterans Benefits. With the federal deficit crisis, we all expect government services and benefits to be on the chopping block for years to come. While we certainly are willing to take our fair share in helping this great nation back to the road of recovery, we must also be vigilant and proactive for our rights and benefits. We must stand strong against any disproportional cutback of services and benefits to the veterans' community. Active forces, veterans and national security should not, and will not, bear the major burden of any government reduction plan.
The Flag Amendment. A proposed constitutional amendment to protect Old Glory from physical desecration has been introduced as Senate Joint Resolution 19 and House Joint Resolution 13 this year. You need to contact your senator's and your representative's office and ask them to become cosponsors in their respective chambers. If they are already cosponsors, be sure to thank them. Let's push for the long overdue passage of this bill during this Congress.
My projects for this year will be the Child Welfare Foundation and the Legacy Scholarship Fund. The Child Welfare Foundation provides needed services and programs for the betterment of our children. The Legacy Scholarship Fund provides for children of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice while defending this nation against terrorism. Please join me in support of these two worthwhile programs of the American Legion.
My theme for the year is "We Serve With PRIDE (People-Research-Ideas-Develop-Execute)!" My membership pin is called "Super Eight." It's an eagle PRIDE pin which will be awarded to anyone who signs up, transfers from DMS, or renews a combination of eight Legion members. We ordered a couple thousand, and I would love to order more.
I look forward to an exciting year working with you. I look forward to meeting you in person, and I look forward to visiting your great departments again. I am excited at the opportunity to share our views on many issues. I cannot promise you that I have solutions for everything. I know I don't. But if we work together, I am sure we will find the right answers. With your support, we will be successful. Yes, we are proud to serve our veterans family. Yes, we are proud to serve our community. Yes, we know much is expected for ourselves. Yes, we also know, much is expected of us by others. Yes, we are proud to serve our country. And yes, we are proud to be Americans! Thank you. God bless you and God bless America!