It was 11 years ago that American Legion National Commander Denise H. Rohan was sitting in the National Executive Committee room at National Headquarters in Indianapolis, learning about the tools to become an effective leader in the organization. As a 2006 Legion College graduate, she looked out across the room on Tuesday to the 2017 Legion College class and reminded the 55 students that one of them too could be the Legion’s future national commander.
“You wouldn’t be here if your department didn’t believe in you. You are each seen as up-and-comers in The American Legion,” she said.
Rohan shared a video with the class of a speech by Pastor Craig Groeschel because she felt his words applied to The American Legion. Especially his quote, “If you’re not dead, you’re not done.”
“I have met some World War II veterans who are in their 90s. It was amazing to meet those gentlemen and to see their energy and love they still have for this great American Legion Family,” Rohan said. “They are continuing to work for us. They continue to mentor. They’re sharing their history. And they’re sharing their experience. If you’re not dead, you’re not done.
“As I look around this room you are far from dead, and you are far from being done. And each and every one of you have already written a mighty page in history, of this service you’ve already given this great nation. I will be so excited to see of what the future of the Class of 2017 holds.”
Since Legion College got underway on Sunday, leadership has been the focus of their daily schedule.
“We are trying to reinforce and motivate you to be a leader and to mentor somebody else,” said Joshua Clement, a 2015 Legion College graduate from Helena, Mont. “We are confident that you are a leader in your organization; we just want to make sure you can take leadership to the next level.”
The students have been defining leadership, reviewing the four traits of an effective leader (honest, competent, forward-thinking and inspirational), and identifying what kind of leaders they are through questionnaires and leadership videos. They have also been working on answers for their assigned leadership scenarios and writing resolutions, which will both be delivered Thursday during the mock department convention.
“As leaders, we need to understand our organization so we can give purpose. Our mission is what we’re doing. Our vision is where we need to go,” Clement said. “If you’re a competent leader that’s forward-thinking, you can inspire your organization, you’re going to have the credibility as a leader.”
Clement asked the class for feedback about what leadership means to them and scenarios of a good leader.
“If we teach the leadership techniques that we learn here to our posts and districts, there will be a more uniform type of leadership in the organization. We will all be going in the same direction,” said Annette Bower of Post 127 in Floyd, Va.
“When I look back at my first time going to a (post) meeting, I remember this one gentleman, a Korean vet, who welcomed me, asked me my name and background. That kept me coming back: that one individual,” said Mark Dvorak of Post 45 in Le Center, Minn.
Rohan reminded the students that as they develop their leadership skills in the hope of leadership positions in the Legion, they may experience pushback from older Legionnaires telling them to wait their turn. “I just ask that you hang in there and pass on whatever it is that you have inside of you, the future of this great organization,” she said. “Because that is how we will continue to grow, continue to flourish, and continue to serve this great nation and take care of our families - our veterans' families, our military families, and we are taking care of our nation’s families.”
On Wednesday evening Rohan will conduct an open forum with the Legion College class to give them an opportunity to ask questions about her role as national commander, the organization at every level, and more.