Legionnaires: ‘Who will fill our shoes?’

For nearly a century it’s been The American Legion who has advocated for veterans, instilled the values of citizenship to children and youth, assisted veterans’ families in need, educated the public about protecting Old Glory, lobbied for maintaining a strong national defense, and much more.

In effort for The American Legion to maintain leadership on these pillars for the next century and beyond, National Commander Charles E. Schmidt opened his remarks to members of the National Executive Committee with a question – “For all the Legionnaires that are no longer a part of our organization, who’s going to fill their shoes?

“Who is going to fill all of your shoes – leaders in your communities and departments of The American Legion? The American Legion is better because of what you have contributed.”

Schmidt’s question to the NEC May 10 during Spring Meetings in Indianapolis was in regards to the decline in membership for 2016-2017.

“Everywhere I go I tell Legionnaires that if each of them would recruit just one new member, we would double our membership. And when someone recruits three new members, I call or email them,” he said.

Schmidt received an email back from Monica Trujillo, a member of Post 29 in Port Angeles, Wash., who said, “I’m honored to have served this great nation … I look forward to reinvesting my efforts to garner younger veterans into volunteerism.”

“I’m glad there are Legionnaires like Monica, who are working to get new members and mentoring younger ones to someday fill our shoes,” Schmidt said. “But what about the rest of us?”

During Schmidt's remarks, all but two NECman were handed a sheet that listed contact information for all the non-renewals in their respective Legion posts. The two who did not receive a list had zero non-renewals.

“Find out why they left the fold and find a way to fix it,” he said. “If people feel wanted and appreciated, they will renew.”

Also included on the sheets were the names of posts in the NECman’s respective departments and the number of non-renewals in each post. “We all believe in leadership by example and this is your opportunity to do so in your departments,” Schmidt said. “Since you are reaching out to past members of your post, expect other leaders in your department to do the same.”

Schmidt reminded those in attendance that www.mylegion.org is another great avenue for accessing members who are either expired, new in the area or in a holding post. He encouraged everyone who isn’t a registered user of MyLegion.org to call (800) 433-3318 or send an email to mylegion@legion.org.

Schmidt then announced a new incentive to join MyLegion – the NEC passed Resolution No. 1 Wednesday morning, which makes contact information for newly acquired DMS members available immediately through MyLegion.org. This will go into effect July 1. The resolution was passed with hopes that the retention rate of DMS members would increase if they were contacted and asked to transfer into a local post rather than sitting in a headquarters post.

“We can provide the information but it is up to all of you, your departments, posts and membership chairs to provide the tender loving care to these members so that they feel part of The American Legion family.”

Schmidt emphasized the need to maintain a strong membership, which is to ensure our voice is heard on Capitol Hill when fighting for veterans and to continuing supporting veterans, their families, and children and youth through the organization’s many programs.

One Legion program that continues to grow every year due to the financial needs of veterans and their families is the Temporary Financial Assistance (TFA) program – the commander’s charity program – which provides cash grants to eligible veterans with minor children help pay for the costs of shelter, food, clothing and medical expenses. In 2016, TFA issued $830,010 in grants, an increase of nearly $6,000 from the previous year.

“That means meeting the need in 2016 required the full national per capital dues of 320 more Legionnaires than the year before. We can’t continue to lose membership and at the same time do more each year for those who need our help,” Schmidt said.

The commander’s parting words to the NEC was a call for them to take action.

“Since my election as national commander, I have asked Legionnaires to ‘Carry the Legacy Forward.’ But who is going to fill our shoes in order to do that?”