The National Legion College students had an opportunity to engage face-to-face with American Legion National Commander Vincent J. “Jim” Troiola Thursday afternoon. He met with the students on the fourth floor of American Legion National Headquarters in Indianapolis to give the class an opportunity to ask him questions.
On Day 2 of National Legion College the students shared their why to joining The American Legion and staying in the organization. The very first question Troiola received was for him to share his why.
“From looking at all of the things my post (Post 1682 in Rockland County, N.Y.) did for the community, a pretty active post, I just wanted to join and make a difference. I want to make a difference in people’s lives. Being in this position (national commander), I have the opportunity right now to really make a difference. Let me explain why. We know all about the Be the One (veteran suicide prevention) campaign … this is how I make a difference. When I speak to an audience about Be the One and a family member comes up to me and tells me about people in their own families, friends, who took their lives, I sit there, I listen. You have no idea the emotion that comes out of me. It’s very rewarding, it’s humbling. I know that the Be the One campaign is going to make a difference; it is making a difference.”
Troiola was asked about how success with Be the One will be measured.
“The only way we are going to measure success with Be the One is by saving veterans lives. That’s the only measurement tool I know. I would suggest that if you are involved in suicide awareness and suicide prevention in your local post and your community, go to legiontown.org and let us know what you’re doing. That’s how the American Legion will know that the message we are sending is getting across to communities.
“This is a very important time of the year to do Buddy Checks … the holiday season. You have veterans sitting at home, possibly alone, isolated. This is a great time to call them and wish them a Merry Christmas, Happy New Year. And just ask them how they’re doing. There’s no more important time than now.”
Troiola is three months into his term as national commander and the class wanted to know what the hardest part has been so far – for him, it’s been travel. An example he gave was leaving Okinawa and going straight to Legion College and overcoming the time difference. But with that travel, “I enjoy visiting posts. I enjoy listening to the members. I like to see the looks on their faces and the pride they have when they tell me what they’re doing in their community.”
The travel question promoted someone to ask if he’s had an “exceptional” visit to a state. Troiola referenced a visit last month to the Department of Oregon where he visited with Coast Guard members and had the opportunity to drive a 47-foot Motor Life Boat C Class in Coos Bay. “That was a lot of fun. But the best thing about that trip was in that same day I went up in a (Coast Guard) MH-65 Dolphin rescue helicopter and rode up and down the Oregon coast. That was cool.”
The chance to become national commander was an aspiration Troiola had after serving as national vice commander in 2016-2017. “When you see the things people are doing to make us stronger as The American Legion it’s very easy to, once you have the experience under your belt, to think about becoming the face of the organization. Visiting posts and watching what we do, that’s my inspiration.”
Troiola was asked about the importance of mentorship and if he had a mentor.
“When you join a post there’s always a member out there that sees something in you that they believe you have an avenue to go forward. That for me was a Korean War veteran. That guy stuck with me until about 10 years ago before he got sick. I was at a post recently where all the leadership got off all the committees and let the new generation of veterans run the show. They just said, ‘If you need any help we are here. But it’s yours. Take it and run with it.’ That takes courage. There’s a lot people in positions at posts that don’t want to let go. But it is important to try to step back and let some of the newer generation of veterans take over.”
In terms of what’s next after his time as national commander, Troiola said he will take a little time off and get active in his post again. Then he recalled a position he will be interested in holding again after a student asked what his favorite program has been to chair – “Oratorical. How do you like how fast I said that?”
Troiola has served as a district and post oratorical chairman. “There’s nothing like watching a young student stand up in front of an audience and speak from memory about the Constitution. To me there’s nothing better than that. It gives us pause to think about that we have future leaders of America in those kids. I would become an oratorical chairman again after this.”
Before his conversation with the Legion College class ended, Troiola shared a fun fact about himself. “I’m the only national commander ever to eat ice cream with chopsticks.”