Kurt Skinner wanted a tangible way for members of his Neal Thomas Jr. Centennial American Legion Post 209 in Colorado Springs, Colo., to live by words from the organization’s Preamble to the Constitution: “to foster and perpetuate a 100 percent Americanism.”
The members found their answer on Nov. 7.
During a naturalization ceremony at the Pikes Peak Library, 34 newly naturalized American citizens representing 20 different countries received their first U.S. flag and an American Legion “Let’s Be Right on Flag Etiquette” booklet from Post 209 Legion Family members in attendance.
“I thought this might be a nice, tangible way for us as veterans in in the community to express that support for legal immigration and pride in American citizenship … by us being present at a naturalization ceremony and personally presenting these new citizens their first flag on what’s really their birthday as U.S. citizens,” said Skinner, Post 209 historian and Americanism Committee chairman. “If you are looking for a way to foster and perpetuate that 100% Americanism, sponsor a U.S. flag to a new American citizen.”
When Skinner approached Post 209 membership about his idea, it was supported wholly. He asked members for a $25 gift to personally sponsor a flag for a new American citizen. Within six weeks, he received $1,000 in donations.
“Our post embraced this idea and Kurt ran with it,” said Jay Bowen, past Department of Colorado commander. “The success of his (fundraising) efforts resulted in raising enough money to buy (40) flags and (flag etiquette) booklets without asking the post to subsidize this unique idea.”
The 3x5 all-weather flags and flag etiquette booklets were purchased through American Legion Emblem Sales. The 22 Post 209 Legionnaires, Sons of The American Legion members, Auxiliary members and Legion Riders took turns handing out the materials to the new citizens after they received their naturalization certificate.
For many Legion Family members, Skinner said it was their first naturalization ceremony and “they were just really moved. I think they were really surprised at how moving it is.
“I tell people that if you need to be inspired and encouraged about what's right in America then attend a naturalization ceremony. At the end of the citizenship naturalization ceremony, you will see that joy and appreciation for that privilege of what they've just received. There's a lot of divisive rhetoric surrounding immigration in our American lives, and so this is a good way, I think, for us to be out there in the community and showing The American Legion colors as veterans.
“As veterans, we've especially got a vested interest in this Constitutional Republic and so it's a good way to demonstrate that we still support legal immigration. We want to honor people who are pursuing that and pursuing American citizenship.”
The new American citizens were so thankful for the patriotic support from veterans that several of them asked to have their picture taken with them. “As veterans the flag appreciation is central to what we do in respect for the flag, and we model that I think for the rest of American citizens,” Skinner said.
Skinner has been teaching a pathway to citizenship class at the Pikes Peak Library where, as a former social studies high school teacher, he discusses U.S. flag history and etiquette. The education coordinator for the class is also the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services liaison for naturalization ceremonies. So when he approached the USCIS about Post 209’s involvement, he received “an overwhelmingly supportive response. Most of those organizations are going to be pretty supportive of the idea of veterans wanting to honor the new citizens.”
Skinner encourages other Legion posts to visit https://www.uscis.gov/ and connect with a USCIS liaison to participate in a naturalization ceremony.
“It takes very little for them to write us into the ceremony and provide us a little space off to the side to set up a table of flags and to present them as (the new citizens) come off stage.”
Going forward, attending naturalization ceremonies for the presentation of a U.S. flag and flag etiquette booklet will be a part of Post 209’s efforts to foster a 100% Americanism.
“Our post involvement in this U.S. citizenship ceremony was very rewarding, and we intend to establish the ‘first flag for new citizens’ initiative as an ongoing Americanism program at Post 209,” Skinner said. “I would encourage other American Legion posts in every state to find similar ways to participate in naturalization and citizenship programs in your communities. As members of the nation’s foremost veteran service organization, we can powerfully demonstrate our ongoing commitment to American values and civic engagement by celebrating with our community’s newest U.S. citizens as they pledge ‘to support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America.’”