"Anything can happen in The American Legion. And the younger guys, the newer veterans, they don't want a stodgy old organization or what they perceive as something that doesn't do stuff, or maybe there are limitations. They want to see dynamic leadership, innovation and creativity. That mission inspired people to do more."
As the commander of American Legion Post 121 in Bardstown, Ky., Peter "Dr. Pete" Trzop wanted to strengthen the Legion's standing in the community while improving its relationship with Bardstown's National Guard unit, 138 Charlie Battery.
Armed with a doctorate in organizational leadership, Trzop put together and led a Legion team to Djibouti, Africa – where the 138th was stationed last spring – to educate troops about VA services and benefits, provide health resources and offer chaplain services.
The five-person team signed up 125 members in 14 different states, proving the power of an individual and of a local post. "If you can send a team over to a combat zone, you can do anything in The American Legion," Trzop says.
His military background gave him the leadership experience necessary to pull off the trip. He also credits Legion leadership, including past department commanders. "They said, ‘You're the younger generation with all the energy. We're old school with all the knowledge. We'll show you how to do it (and) make it right.' It was nice to blend all those experiences together and go over there and cover what the soldiers wanted, and be flexible to deliver what else they needed."
Trzop's next project is an interdepartmental trip overseas, an idea he helped hatch at Legion College last fall. While a great deal of planning still needs to happen, several departments have already donated $5,000 each to the project and even more have expressed interest in participating. Trzop knows that not every Legionnaire would be available or able to make such a journey. But he believes it's possible to make a difference in every community.
"Take what we did here and grow it any way you want," he says. "That doesn't mean you have to go overseas. If you plant the seeds today, you will have the trees tomorrow. If you work with and help veterans today, you will have veterans tomorrow who will help in the future."
Branch of Service: Army, Air Force
MOS: Combat engineer, combat artillery, federal agent
Rank at discharge: Captain
American Legion Post: Old Kentucky Home Post 121, Bardstown, Ky.
Number of Years in the Legion: 8 (Paid Up For Life member)