'We must leave our footprints'

The founders of The American Legion had a vision for the organization when they first gathered in 1919. Nearly 100 years later, newly elected American Legion National Commander Charles E. Schmidt said it’s the job of current Legionnaires to make sure that vision continues.

“Our time and responsibility is here for us, you and I, …to ensure that that vision is passed on to the next generation of veterans to insure those who have borne the battle, and their families, will be cared for by a grateful nation,” Schmidt told Legion family members on Sept. 1 at the Legion’s national convention in Cincinnati. “You and I must leave our footprints on today’s American Legion.

“Our Founding Fathers had a vision for America and its veterans. That vision is still relevant today. As long as there are conflicts around the world, our nation must be prepared to defend those vital interests to our nation and our allies with a strong and capable military. Where there are active-duty, Guard and Reserve personnel, and veterans, there will always be a need for The American Legion. You and I have inherited that vision.”

A previous member of Story-Hardin Post 164 in Craig, Mo., and current life member of Harney County Post 63 in Burns, Ore., Schmidt said being a member of a post puts Legionnaires in the role of stakeholders in the organization.

“With that comes a voice and a vote,” he said. “Also with the card comes a responsibility – a responsibility to our individual post, to fellow members and veterans to make something good happen in The American Legion by getting involved. It is unthinkable of a post charter petitioned for cancellation because no one will step up to a position of leadership.

“Each of us has a niche or forte to bring to this great organization. If we collectively combine our special talents and invest them throughout our posts, we will strengthen our American Legion and continue to make positive things happen.”

A past post and department commander who has held multiple national appointments – including National Executive Committeeman since 2005 – Schmidt served in the U.S. Air Force from 1965-1993, retiring at the rank of major after serving in both the enlisted and officer corps. Schmidt then implemented the Air Force’s Total Quality Management (TQM) program at Lowry Technical Training Center in Denver before moving to Oregon and working at Harney County Federal Credit Union. He eventually retired as executive vice president and now is Oregon’s first-ever national commander.

This year Schmidt wants to raise $1 million for the Legion’s service officer training program and $1 million for the Temporary Financial Assistance program, which provides non-repayable cash grants to children of eligible veterans to help maintain the basic needs of their children, such as shelter, utilities, clothing, food and medical care in times of need.

“Training our service officers is vital because of the great and substantial number of backlogged claims existing today,” Schmidt said. “It is our job to take care of veterans and take care of their families. Touching the lives of veterans and their families is who we are. I know I can count on your support to aid veterans and children.”

Schmidt asked Legionnaires to share with Congress the Legion’s support for an amendment to protect the U.S. flag from physical desecration, as well as to promote flag history and etiquette in classrooms in their communities. Posts should be the leader in establishing and promoting observances, especially Veterans Day, in communities and schools, he said.

He also called on members of the organization to encourage citizens to vote in the upcoming November election while remaining non-partisan. And he asked posts to work with parents, schools, organizations and sponsors to increase student participation in the Legion’s various youth programs.

“Our reward will be seeing students in our communities bettering themselves and their future because The American Legion gave them a chance,” Schmidt said. “America needs a strong citizenry, and The American Legion has the programs to help facilitate that.”

Schmidt reiterated the organization’s position that the Department of Veterans Affairs is a system worth saving. “The VA was created to take care of veterans, and there is no other system that understands veterans’ needs (as well as VA does),” Schmidt said. “I look forward to working on your behalf with the VA and Secretary (Bob) McDonald in the coming months in a dialogue of openness and sincerity.”

Calling member participation an important part of the Legion’s membership program, Schmidt challenged Legionnaires to sign up one new member and renew one current member.

“If you (do) you will hear from me,” he said. “If you sign three new members up you will receive the commander’s membership pin. Your department can compete for a monetary award ($1,500) within your region by signing up the most new members during the period Jan. 1, 2017, thru May 31, 2017. I doubt there is a department that couldn’t use additional resources to further their membership efforts.”

Schmidt said the Legion is steeped in history and asked members to “accentuate the positives” in the coming months. “We have so many programs and initiatives that have become the benchmark for patriotism, service and sacrifice,” he said. “Good things are happening in our posts (and) in every department every day. Share it throughout your communities, through social media and other means. Document those good things in your Consolidated Post Report. Every post deserves the credit for their programs and accomplishments.

“I am truly honored, humbled and proud to be serving with you in the coming year. Together we will make good things happen in our American Legion"

Paul Martel, Fae Casper, Douglas L. Boldt, Paul L. Espinoza and Vincent J. Troiola were elected national vice commanders for the 2016-2017 year.