National Commander Charles E. Schmidt and National President Mary Davis visit the graves of U.S. military veterans at Tomari International Cemetery in Okinawa, Japan. (Photo by John Raughter)

'We are here to help you'

National Commander Charles E. Schmidt made one priority of his perfectly clear to military officials briefing him during his visit to Okinawa, Japan, earlier this week.

“The American Legion is here and we are here to help you,” he said, while leading a delegation that included American Legion Auxiliary National President Mary Davis and Okinawa American Legion Post 28 Commander John O’Brien.

And there is a lot that The American Legion can help the troops with, according to senior military leaders.

“We have a large installation here, and we prioritize our airmen and their families at No. 1,” said Brigadier Gen. Barry Cornish, the commander of the 18th Wing at Kadena Air Base. “These are challenging times. And it’s more than just a budget. It’s the pace and the tempo. I worry about mental burnout among our young people. It can also lead to a retention problem because of opportunities that are available on the outside.”

Cornish said that unlike military installations in the United States, overseas bases are not assigned to congressional districts and, as a result, can be ignored as representatives and senators fight to fund projects back home.

Marine Corps Installations Pacific Sgt. Major Peter A. Siaw said that the Okinawa military footprint is not just one of bases, but of “projection platforms.”

Pointing to threats represented by China and North Korea, he added that operations tempo for his Marines remain high. “This area is continually contentious,” Siaw said. “Things aren’t getting slower. They’re getting busier.”

Davis inadvertently said “we retired,” before correcting herself as she referred to her husband

Dale’s military career. “No, I think you were correct. It is ‘we,’” said Navy Capt. Robert W. Mathewson, commander of Fleet Activities Okinawa. “We can’t do it without the support of our families. I can’t imagine being able to do my job without my families support. I view it as you also retired.”

Schmidt and Davis also visited Tomari International Cemetery, where many U.S. military veterans and family member are buried. Post 28 conducts monthly clean-ups at the cemetery, which was almost destroyed during the battle of Okinawa and includes a monument to Navy Commodore Matthew Perry.

“Our post sponsored an Eagle Scout who painted the crosses here as his project,” O’Brien said. “We’ve been very active with the Boy Scouts and have produced four Eagles. It’s just one of many things we do on this island.”