American Legion National Commander Charles E. Schmidt concluded his American Legion tour of Germany with a homecoming of sorts. The retired Air Force major was given a warm welcome by airmen serving at Ramstein Air Base in Rhineland-Palatinate, where Schmidt worked as a protocol staff officer and squadron commander in the 1980s.
It was while at lunch with a group of airmen at the base on June 1 that Schmidt was struck by one impressive testimonial. “I am already a member of The American Legion,” said Air Force Tech Sgt. Caleb Simpson. “It wasn’t until the commander started discussing it that I realized that it was The American Legion that taught me about flag etiquette. From a dumpster! We retrieved that flag and I will be reenlisting in front of that same flag on June 6. And while I volunteered to serve my country by joining the Air Force, I joined Post 65 in Richmond, Ind., as a way of volunteering in my community.”
Schmidt emphasized that advocating for the needs of military personnel like Simpson is a mission that The American Legion takes seriously.
“Whether it’s influencing young people through patriotic programs or supporting our military, as long as we have men and women in uniform there will always be a need for The American Legion.”
It’s a message that Schmidt, American Legion Auxiliary National President Mary Davis and Sons of The American Legion National Commander Jeff Frain also took to a town hall held at the Army Garrison at Vogelweh.
“Reminding our military personnel about what The American Legion does in protecting the benefits of those serving and preparing them for the transition when they get out is an important message that Commander Schmidt was delivering,” Frain said. “How the Sons can assist with encouraging young people to spend less time playing video games and more time learning about programs like Boy Scouts, the American Legion Riders, and ways to honor their parents or grandparents who served is a message that I can help deliver.”
The delegation also saw the impact that The American Legion Family has in the hallowed halls of the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, the USO and nearby Fisher Houses.
While touring the medical center, Davis met with Army Maj. Sarah Sublett in her hospital room. Sublett is a 1996 graduate of Alaska Auxiliary Girls State and now a new member of The American Legion.
“It was exciting (meeting Sublett) because it told me how far-reaching our programs are and in this instance, the profound impact Girls State had on this servicemember,” Davis said. “She immediately recognized who we were because of our programs. So many times we hear that the girls don’t know who sponsor them, but this proves that that could be wrong. She immediately wanted to become part of our American Legion Family when she learned that it was possible. She recognized the difference that we make.”
Schmidt presented clothing donations, including sweat pants, hooded jackets and undergarments to the Landstuhl medical center courtesy of the Legion's Operation Comfort Warriors program. He also presented the adjacent Warrior Center USO with kitchen items and video games, while promising that OCW also has televisions and propane gas grills on the way. Family members of patients will be able to use commissary and military exchange gift cards that were sent to the Fisher Houses.
“It was impressive,” Davis said of the medical center. “The people who work there seem to love to work there. That says a lot about our military care. I was impressed with how many patients wanted to see us. The patients even asked to see us before we got there.”
National Executive Committee member Nola Maloney believes that The American Legion Department of France can collaborate with other organizations to improve the quality of life for U.S. military families in Europe.
“We need to increase our community awareness and use every resource that we can find, whether it be the USO, Army Community Services or the chaplains at Landstuhl. We’re here to support these troops and their families,” she said.
It was a message that Schmidt reiterated during a radio interview with the Armed Forces Network and in several command briefings at Ramstein. While meeting with the leadership of the 521st Air Mobility Operations Wing, Col. Thomas Cooper put the sacrifices made by members of today’s all volunteer force in perspective.
“The freedom to say, ‘I don’t want to do it because I don’t want to die,’ is protected by those who do it,” Cooper said.
Schmidt’s delegation will next visit the birthplace of The American Legion in Paris before participating in D-Day commemorations at Normandy on June 6. The group will also lay wreaths on behalf of The American Legion Family at Flanders Field Cemetery and meet with NATO officials in Brussels.