American Legion National Commander Jimmie Foster speaks to members of the National Executive Committee in Indianapolis during the Spring Meetings. Photo by James V. Carroll

The war isn't over yet

The United States scored a major victory with the killing of Osama bin Laden. But during The American Legion’s Spring National Executive Committee Meetings in Indianapolis May 4-5, National Commander Jimmie L. Foster said the war against terrorism is far from over.

“The death of Osama bin Laden is a testament to the skill and bravery of the SEALS and intelligence operatives that carried out the raid,” Foster told the NEC. “It was an important victory in our global war on terrorism. More than 6,000 American servicemen and women have died and more than 40,000 (have been) wounded while serving in this war.

“The war is still not over, however. The evil ideology that spawned it still exists, and America must remain vigilant against the threats of Radical Islam.”

Part of fighting that war, Foster said, is making sure the servicemembers engaged in it are treated fairly. “We must provide them the resources that they need to succeed,” he said. “Through our programs, our advocacy and our outreach, The American Legion will continue to improve the quality of lives for these heroes and their families.”

That includes making sure U.S. servicemembers receive their full pay on time in the event of a future government shutdown. Plans were made to pay the military retroactively if a shutdown occurred.

“The American Legion issued a statement reminding those affected about the services we offer through Temporary Financial Assistance and the Family Support Network,” Foster said. “But there is only so much we can do. We cannot replace military paychecks. There is legislation in both chambers of Congress that would ensure that servicemembers will be paid on time in the event of future government shutdowns. The bills are H.R. 1297 and S. 777. Paying our troops on time for their outstanding work needs to be the law of the land.” 

Also along troop-support lines, Foster shared with the NEC a letter he received from Lt. Gen. George J. Flynn, commanding general of the U.S. Marine Corps Combat Development Command. The base requested, and was provided, equipment from the Legion to start a photography club for recovering Marines and sailors at Wounded Warrior Battalion West at Camp Pendleton.

“Your contribution and commitment of support to the brave men and women who have so courageously defended our great nation during a time of war is truly appreciated,” Flynn wrote. “I am pleased to let you know that the generosity you have shown to our Marines will make a positive difference in their lives.”

Foster said the donation is a perfect example of the Legion carrying out one of its core missions. “Yes, we are a great and influential grassroots lobbying group,” Foster said. “But it is our service – service to God, country and our communities – that sets us apart. We don’t just memorize and recite our Four Pillars – We live them.”

Foster called for Congress to enact legislation that will allow veterans to use Medicare at Department of Veterans Affairs health-care facilities, as well as legislation that will protect the U.S. flag from physical desecration. He also briefed the NEC on a “very productive meeting” with President Barack Obama in the White House on March 28. “Both the president and First Lady seem genuinely committed to improving the lives of military families,” Foster said. 

Remembering John H. Geiger. The NEC recognized the passing of Frank Buckles, the last living U.S. veteran of World War I, with a memorial resolution, and passed a similar resolution memorializing Past National Commander John H. Geiger, who passed away Jan. 10. Past national commanders Jake Comer, Ronald F. Conley, Robert W. Spanogle and Marty Conatser shared their memories about Geiger with the NEC, as did Department of Utah NECman Bill Christoffersen and Department of New York Adjutant Richard Pedro.

Also passed Wednesday was Resolution 1, which renames the Legion’s facility that currently houses the IT, Emblem Sales and Fundraising and Membership Services divisions to the John H. Geiger Operations Center. An architectural engineer by trade, Geiger was instrumental in the decision, approval, acquisition of land, building design and construction of the facility in 1999.

Copies of both resolutions were presented to one of Geiger’s daughters, Vivienne Hildebrand, and his sons Carl and Jack. “Thank you for what you’ve done,” Hildebrand told the NEC.

New committees. The NEC also approved the formation of two new committees and a task force: the Veterans Policy Oversight Committee, 100th Anniversary Committee and the Centennial Task Force for the Future.

The Veterans Policy Oversight Committee will be charged with reviewing evolving issues in the arena of veterans policy and providing recommendations as to how the Legion is to confront these issues. The committee will consist of National Commander Jimmie L. Foster, Harold D. Barnett, John W. Hickey, Jr., Mike Schlee, Robert W. Spanogle, Michael D. Helm, Linda Bomberger, Ronald F. Conley, William F. Schrier and William W. Kile. The committee will be supported by consultants William J. Haynes II, Dr. Kenneth W. Kizer, Dr. Omega C. Logan Silva, David K. Rehbein, Paul A. Morin, William M. Diefenderfer III and Lt. Gen. Michael Rochelle.

The 100th Anniversary Committee will work to formulate plans for the observance of The American Legion’s 100th anniversary. Spanogle will chair the committee, while Rehbein will serve as vice chairman. Other members are Angel Juarez, Michael E. Walton, Charles J. Zelinsky, David O. Warnken, Paul A. Morin, Derek J. Blumke, Lowry Finley-Jackson, Pierre Harper and Charemon Dunham.

The Centennial Task Force for the Future will examine the current structure and organization of the Legion, focusing on commissions, committees, councils, boards and similar bodies.

Kenneth D. Danilson will chair the task force, while Morin will serve as vice-chair. Other members are Spanogle, Conley, Richard W. Anderson, Charles R. Knox, Larry J. Besson, Patrick W. Lafferty, Joseph J. Frank, Roger Hight and Jerry L. Hedrick.

 Other happenings

• National Membership & Post Activities Committee Chairman Denise Rohan said that while Direct Mail Solicitation membership totals will exceed their goal of 210,000 this year, traditional membership totals are expected to be down 40,000. To offset this, Rohan said the names of 78,000 non-renewed 2011 DMS members were made available to departments on May 3. “Hopefully, departments can use these names and turn these numbers around,” Rohan said.

• Wisconsin Legionnaire Wayne Jensen, president of the 2010 National Convention Corporation, reported the national convention in Milwaukee netted a profit of $90,874.57, half of which he presented back to the national organization.

• Department of Alabama NECman F. Wayne Turner thanked fellow Legionnaires for their thoughts and help following the rash of tornadoes that ravaged the south, killing more than 230 in Alabama alone. “It’s the worst thing that’s happened to our state besides Hurricane Katrina,” Turner said. “Thanks for your thoughts, prayers and help. With that, we will survive.”

• More than $33,000 was raised for the National Emergency Fund during the meetings, while $13,553 was raised for the Child Welfare Foundation and another $1,000 for The American Legion Legacy Scholarship Fund.

Additional coverage of the Spring Meetings will be featured on in the coming days.