Legionnaires test leadership skills through real-life post scenarios

The 2017 American Legion College class of 55 Legionnaires conducted their mock department convention Thursday morning in Indianapolis, where their assigned district group resolutions were read and voted on. National Commander Denise H. Rohan presided over the meeting as Library and Museum Director Howard Trace read each of the five resolutions’ resolve clauses.

The groups were challenged to share why their respective resolutions should pass and not be rejected. Out of the five presented, one passed: to appoint an ad hoc committee to address the feasibility of creating an American Legion program for male relatives and spouses, fathers, grandfathers, etc., who are not eligible for membership in the Sons of The American Legion. While an ad hoc committee was created a few years ago to review this same issue, the group wanted to reintroduce the resolution in hopes of finding new evidence.

“All of us know someone, either a male or female veteran, who have a male relative who cannot join our family. And I think we really need to consider that we want all of our family to be involved in The American Legion,” said Holly Lewis of Post 557 in Ohio.

Following the mock convention, Past National Commander and Legion College Chancellor Dave Rehbein shared the five districts' real-life post conflict scenarios that they were assigned to and discussed their answers to resolve them.

One scenario involved an Operation Iraqi Freedom Marine veteran who had a service dog to help with his PTSD and was bringing it to the post, but the post was refusing him to let him because members were uncomfortable with the dog and didn’t know whether to trust the veteran that it was actually a service dog. The district assigned to this scenario agreed to resolve the issue by asking the veteran to provide proper verification that his dog was certified and trained as a service-connected dog. Then Rehbein challenged the class by asking if the focus should be on the dog or on why there’s a dog. Because to break through the emotion of the situation, the post could ask about connecting him to a Legion service officer to make sure he’s getting the benefits he’s earned.

“Before reading this scenario, I would sometimes think just because a veteran comes into the post in their wheelchair or are disabled in some capacity, that they are taken care of,” said Steven Kohnke of Post 434 in Wisconsin. “So this brought to light that just because they are disabled or they have a service dog, maybe there’s more we can do. That’s one of the pillars of the Legion.”

Another scenario was the inability of a veteran to show DD-214 papers because they couldn’t locate them, but they wanted to join the post. They were not allowed to join because of this. The district assigned to this scenario believed that training on how to help potential Legion members gain access to their DD-214 was needed. For example, veterans can go here to request a copy of their discharge papers.

Another scenario was that of a centennial post whose adjutant was in an assisted living center, the commander didn’t know he was elected to that position, the post had lost its nonprofit status, membership checks were found in a drawer, and more. The district assigned to this scenario wanted to conduct a revitalization and mentioned that this scenario is an example of the vital need to identify the issue before it comes to the unfortunate result of a post closing its doors. They said one way to do that is by having district leadership create personal contact with posts.

Rehbein shared that in his home state of Iowa, the adjutant of a post walked into the department headquarters to turn in the post’s charter due to its decline in membership. But leadership didn’t let it happen.

“We held on to the charter. We found the right people. We got that post back on its feet,” Rehbein said. “That post came within one game this year of going to the Legion World Series. We had the right people and we put them in the right place and they did the right things."

Rehbein reminded the students that when they address situations such as these scenarios, they need to believe that they can. As inspiration, he said that more than 350 Legion posts in Iowa were chartered in seven months by World War I veterans “because they believed they could.”