American Legion National Commander Denise H. Rohan finished a whirlwind tour of the Far East Sunday after visiting American Legion Family members at Post 123 in the Philippines. The military briefings in South Korea held special significance as they occurred just hours after North Korean despot Kim Jong Un’s latest missile launch on Nov. 29.
Still, the U.S. military in South Korea remain alert but calm. “The South Koreans have lived this way pretty much their whole lives,” said Col. Mike Borgert of the 7th U.S. Air Force. “What’s changed is what North Koreans can do, but I’m not sure we’re closer to war than before.”
Families as well as troops in South Korea can find local American Legion support through Posts 37 and 38. The posts hosted a lunch at Osan Air Base for Rohan’s delegation, which included American Legion Auxiliary National President Diane Duscheck, Auxiliary National Executive Director Mary “Dubbie” Buckler, and American Legion Washington Executive Director Verna Jones.
Duscheck was impressed with the concern for military families that was not just shown by the Legion, but by the military commanders as well. “Our military is doing the best that they can,” Duscheck said. “They understand that they have a job to do and for them that’s the most important thing that there is. But the concern that we show for their families is shared by their military leaders. They care that the spouses can get jobs and that the military and their families can enjoy a high quality of life with fun activities. But when you have fewer troops and they are expected to do more, it adds to their stress level.”
Rohan encouraged Borgert to use The American Legion as a resource to help with quality of life issues.
“We’re working with governors to make licensing and credentialing easier in all 50 states for veterans and their spouses,” Rohan told Borgert. “If soldiers and their spouses have any issues, let us know.”
Jones also emphasized the Legion’s work with the Department of Veterans Affairs, as an area of importance to military members who may rely on the system in the future.
“We’re the biggest advocates for VA, but we’re also their biggest critics,” she said. “We’ve been very successful in working with the current administration which has been signing important veterans legislation with lightning speed.”
On Okinawa, Air Force Col. Richard Tanner, vice commander of the 18th Wing, listed retention for younger airmen as a major challenge. “Our first term airmen are here for two-year assignments. They leave just as they are getting the skills that we really need," Tanner said. “Our military is stretched pretty thin. We are an amazing organization that can do anything, but we can’t do everything.”
Rohan was able to visit a site of amazing military accomplishment as she toured Hacksaw Ridge , a World War II battle on Okinawa that was graphically portrayed in a recent Hollywood film of the same name.
“To see where Medal of Honor recipient Desmond Doss bravely saved so many lives is just inspirational,” Rohan sad. “'Just one more. If only I could have saved just one more,’ is what he kept saying about the men he lowered down that cliff. It just says so much about the type of character of the men and women who not only serve in the military now, but who served throughout our history.”
Rohan also toured Tomari International Cemetery, a historic burial place for many U.S. veterans that is regularly maintained and cleaned monthly by members of Okinawa American Legion Post 28.
“Our post has adopted this cemetery as one of our main community service projects,” said Post 28 Commander Bennie Helton, an active duty Marine master gunnery sergeant said. “We usually get a dozen members or more to work on the fourth Sunday of every month.”
Further north in the Philippine Islands, Legion department officers expressed dissatisfaction with health care services offered by the Foreign Medical Program and bureaucratic delays for burials at Clark Veterans Cemetery. Rohan plans to bring back those concerns to Washington. She is currently visiting the Department of Hawaii where she will be participating in events commemorating the Pearl Harbor attack on December 7 and touring the VA Regional Office.