American Legion National Commander James E. Koutz addressed a joint session of the South Carolina Legislature on Tuesday afternoon, thanking the members for their unwavering support for veterans.
"On behalf of the 2.4 million Legionnaires around the world and the 200 American Legion posts throughout South Carolina, I want to thank you each of you for what you do for our men and women who serve in our military and those in past wars," Koutz told the lawmakers and a gallery that included more than 40 members of the Legion and the Auxiliary.
The appearance by the commander at the South Carolina Statehouse is an annual event dating back decades. Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell, wearing a ceremonial purple robe for the occasion, introduced Koutz and a delegation of Legionnaires to a standing ovation in the ornate chamber.
From the podium, Koutz pressed lawmakers to make it easier for employers to hire veterans. "Veterans have undergone strenuous training, performed in high-stress environments, and bring a set of skills and discipline from which most employers and communities can truly benefit," he said.
The testimony took a somber tone when Koutz recalled the heroism of three South Carolina National Guard members – Lt. Ryan Davis Rawl, Sgt. First Class Matthew "Brad" Thomas and Spec. John Meador – who were killed by a suicide bomber in Afghanistan last June. "All of these men were fathers and husbands," Koutz said. "They are remembered by hundreds of family members and friends who loved them."
Koutz suggested a proper way for lawmakers to remember those three National Guard members and others who have died in war is to assist those who are returning from war. He specified tax breaks for businesses that hire veterans, discounts for college tuition and scholarships for children of servicemembers.
Koutz thanked the legislature for passing a law to include veteran status on South Carolina drivers' licenses.
"Veterans don't typically walk around carrying their discharge papers or DD-214s," he said. "If you are not retired, you no longer carry a military ID. That is one of the many reasons why this recognition on the drivers' licenses is important and was strongly supported by The American Legion Department of South Carolina. I hope more states follow your example."
Lastly, Koutz called up two members of the South Carolina Statehouse and presented each with a Special Legislative Award. The South Carolina Department of The American Legion selected state Sen. Tom Davis and state Rep. Ralph Norman as this year's recipients for their work on behalf of veterans, presenting each with a plaque.