Last November, a woman from Massachusetts faced the possibility of homelessness for the holidays. She had been turned out into the streets while her soldier husband was deployed in Afghanistan. Sue had recently given birth to the couple's second child. The Red Cross learned of her situation and contacted The American Legion.
"We found her a suitable place to live," explained Steven Jimmo, chairman of The American Legion's Family Support Network in Massachusetts. "The local American Legion post worked hard over the next 24 hours to get the necessary amenities. They provided curtains for the apartment, additional food, furniture, and toys for the children. They made sure this young woman with her two infant children – whose father was on duty overseas – had a memorable Thanksgiving."
All across the nation, the Legion makes a difference for military families and newly discharged veterans. We do it through the Family Support Network, Temporary Financial Assistance, Heroes to Hometowns, Operation Comfort Warriors, and hundreds of state and local initiatives. Just like the families, no two situations are alike. Among thousands we have recently helped are:
• A Delaware reservist, his wife and their six children. The Legion stepped in when she lost her job, and they had no fuel for their home in the dead of winter.
• Servicemembers stationed at Fort Dix, N.J., who wanted to spend Thanksgiving with their families just before a 12-month deployment but couldn't pay for their travel. The Legion made it happen.
• A Johnstown, Pa., family struggling to survive, having lost their home and cars due to scarce job opportunities. The Legion provided financial assistance, food, and guidance about how to attain certification for employable skills the man had honed in the military.
• An Air Force member in California, with a 5-year-old son, whose car was broken into; everything was stolen, including her rent money. The Legion got her back on her feet.
Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently said that the best way America can support our troops in transition is at the community level. He might just as well have said "at the American Legion level."
With 14,000 local posts, and more than 2.4 million veterans among our members, no other entity in the nation is better equipped to handle this vital responsibility. I end my year as your national commander with one request: examine your troop-support programs closely, and if they need a jump-start, do it now. If you have a troop-support program that really works but needs more exposure, let people know. Talk to the local media. Share the story of your work on the Legion website and Facebook. That's how families learn about what we do and who we are.
In times like these – when troops come home from war to tough economic times – we are all one community. Nothing is more central to the purpose of the Legion than easing their burdens, and helping secure the futures they fought to protect.