As stewards of the Legion’s future

“We need to get the younger veterans in here.”

I’ve heard those words often while crisscrossing the country, visiting post after post. Members confide in me their concern about The American Legion’s future. They see our World War II and Korean War friends getting older and passing on. They look in the mirror and realize that the Vietnam War wasn’t yesterday. The media like to fret, too, that veterans groups are generally in decline. Frankly, the media have been wrongly predicting our demise since the 1930s.

If the past 12 months have shown us anything, however, it’s that The American Legion is very much alive, vital and relevant – the largest, strongest and most influential voice for veterans, regardless of war era, in this nation. Our strong stances on the government shutdown, veteran unemployment, mental health, sequestration and VA reform have led to meaningful changes at the highest levels of government. Our voice has also reawakened the national media about the content of this organization’s great character. One benefit of increased awareness is that fresh light is now cast upon the Legion, to its next generation of members.

Some 1.4 million members of the armed forces will separate from the service in the next couple of years, joining a population of more than
2.5 million post-9/11 veterans eligible for Legion membership. They are home, or coming home, in search of support and camaraderie befitting their honorable service. Like Legionnaires of war eras past, today’s military and veteran families need us. And we need them.

The growing number of college campus posts around the country is a strong indicator that the Legion has much to offer today’s young veterans. By starting Legion posts, students have found mentors among veteran faculty on campus, along with advisers, friends and advocates from traditional posts in their communities. Today’s young veterans should know we are at work every day on their behalf. No other organization was involved in more veteran career events – more than 1,300 nationwide, at every level from local to national, in 2013 alone. American Legion service officers helped hundreds of thousands of young veterans and their families apply for benefits, and learn about health-care options and other services available to them, one family at a time.

As much as our founders did after coming home from World War I, today’s veterans care about the timeless power of the Legion’s four pillars of service: veterans affairs, defense, youth and Americanism. There is no age limit on such values. That is why they endure today.

So what do young veterans bring to our posts and programs? Insight, about life in today’s military and the challenges of transition to civilian life in the 21st century, for one thing. They bring vibrant new forms of communication and interaction. They bring enthusiasm and spirit.

As a final thought on this amazing year in which I have been honored to serve as your national commander, I implore you to contact, interact, listen, learn and involve today’s generation of veterans and their families. Offer them a place in your post because it will soon be their post. And be sure to mention that we’re all just stewards of The American Legion, which built its rich history by always looking to the future.