Pennsylvania Legionnaires deliver membership benefits, ‘Be the One’ message 

Pennsylvania Legionnaires deliver membership benefits, ‘Be the One’ message 

For the past 10 years, the American Legion Department of Pennsylvania has had a booth at the Great American Outdoor Show in Harrisburg, Pa. The nine-day hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation show started Feb. 4 where department and national leadership have been in attendance creating brand awareness, recruiting members and sharing the Legion’s “Be the One” suicide prevention message.

“Being at a show likes this puts The American Legion into the public eyes,” said Department of Pennsylvania Commander Craig Wilhelm. “We are able to put the word out to the public what we are all about, how we assist veterans and our communities. As of yesterday, we have (signed) up close to 40 new members.” 

National Vice Commander Paul Kennedy of Pennsylvania has also been in attendance at the largest outdoor recreation show and expo, something he has been a part of since 2015 because of its benefits to getting The American Legion in front of people from across the country.  

“It’s about the Legion; it’s about the veteran. It’s not all about membership,” he said. “You have to get down to the grassroots and talk to these people. The benefit is getting the word out about who The American Legion is, what the Legion Family is all about. You get a lot of people who stop by the booth, and they ask you what is The American Legion about. We talked with people about Be the One. That’s why we’re there – to sit and talk to people that need your help and have nowhere to go or don’t know where to go.”

The department had brochures available highlighting American Legion programs, youth scholarships, services, membership in the Legion Family, and a QR code to easily join that featured the Be the One logo.

“We have been educating about Be the One,” said Department of Pennsylvania Membership Chairman John Fritz. “Once they hear about it, they have a story of their own to tell; somebody they knew in their service.”

Fritz said that what helped draw people to the booth was the wearing of military service branch caps to help strike up that conversation with veterans of the same service. Once a conversation got underway about the benefits of joining The American Legion, they often signed up because of the “camaraderie. They just want to have a place to go, a home. That was the biggest draw because a lot of them were probably older veterans. A home to go where more veterans are at.”

Fritz would then show the veteran the posts in his or her area and call the post commander about when the next post meeting was and putting them in that specific post. “Ninety percent of the time they gave us the dues on the spot. You can’t be afraid to talk to them. Conversation is everything.”

Department Assistant Adjutant Troy Michaels signed up a Korean War veteran “who had never been asked to join The American Legion until he stopped by our booth,” he said, adding that he engaged potential members with the programs that the Legion has to offer. “Once we start talking about the programs The American Legion has to offer, they are more interested to actually join. For me, I enjoy working with other veterans, helping them get the benefits they’ve earned and also to make sure to get them into a post to get connected to other veterans to have that camaraderie. (The Great American Outdoor Show) is a great way to promote the Legion, and we’re fortunate it’s been working.”

A Legion service officer also was onsite to assist with VA benefits claims questions. And Kennedy said a Pennsylvania Legionnaire made a copy of the PACT Act exposure-related presumptive conditions to provide additional help.

“There are some days when you have people there (at the show) that really need help,” Kennedy said. “And the Legion being there really helps because we can give them some guidance.”

While at the Great American Outdoor Show, a veteran approached Kennedy and asked if he qualified for VA veteran burial benefits because he said “’I have my reasons.’ I’m not talking about an older gentleman. Right then you catch on,” Kennedy said. “I talked to him about Be the One and where he can get help. I gave him the 988 (suicide crisis) number. I talked to him, I sat with him and his wife for about an hour. Later that day his wife came back and thanked me for talking to him. She said nobody ever talked to him and he needs help. That’s why we’re there. That’s my reason for being there.”

Kennedy also had the opportunity to share the Legion’s Be the One message with a police officer from Virginia who is a veteran and wanted to know what The American Legion was doing for suicide prevention.  

“That led me right into what we are all about with Be the One. He loved it. He took my card and said he was going to join.

“That’s what this is all about,” Kennedy added. “For me, it’s brand awareness to let people know who and what The American Legion is all about. That’s the most important thing is to let them know who we are and what we’re about. And guess what? If we let them know who we are and what we’re about, we’ll get members.”