At noon today, four Department of Kentucky Legionnaires will step onto a plane in Lexington, Ky., that will eventually find its way to Djibouti, Africa. The group’s mission: to take the message of The American Legion to the Kentucky National Guard 2nd Battalion, 138th Field Artillery deployed there.
The four Legionnaires, along with another man representing different national firefighters’ chaplain services, will provide daily briefings to the 138th, the most highly decorated Guard unit from Kentucky.
“We’re always talking about support, but we asked, ‘Why can’t we go to the theater of operation?’ All we could come with was ‘good question,’” said Pete Trzop, who spent six years in the Army and six in the Air Force before exiting the military in 2005. “We want to be able to touch their lives before they come home.
The 39-year-old Trzop, commander of Post 121 in Bardstown, will join fellow Legionnaires Pam Blain (Post 157 of Shepherdsville), and Anthony Noe and Jim Lish (both of Post 81 in Leitchfield) as a part of The American Legion Overseas Deployment Project.
During their 10-day stay with the 138th, they will provide daily briefings in smaller group settings, covering such topics as Department of Veterans Affairs benefits and health care, the Legion’s Family Support Network and Temporary Financial Assistance (TFA), and information on membership in the Legion.
A Home Base team in Kentucky also has been established to provide support to the deployed Legionnaires, including benefits claims and TFA requests processing, as well as other issues arising with the Guardsmen families.
Care packages also are being taken to distribute, while Blain – a licensed massage therapist – will provide massage therapy for as many Guardsmen as possible.
The group sessions also will include a question-and-answer portion, as well as ‘anything else we need, all the way up to parts X, Y and Z,” Trzop said. “We want to provide them actual service and earn their trust.”
The possibility of the Legion deployment came while the department was developing a pilot program to provide support to Kentucky Guard units that included barbecues, family days, bus trips for troops and fundraising. Officers within the Guard supported the idea, leading to the deployment becoming a reality.
“These kinds of programs are transformational and will help us reach thousands of new Legionnaires,” Department of Kentucky Commander Joe Flynn said. “This is new and innovative, and will bring us closer to our core mission of veterans serving veterans.”
Trzop said it’s an exciting opportunity for The American Legion. “I just believe you’ve got to go where the troops are,” he said. “As Joe Flynn told us, we’re the Johnny Appleseeds of The American Legion. We’re going out there to spread the word. Let them see what we can do. Then, when they hear about The American Legion down the road, there’s a pretty good chance they’ve got a good memory of us.”