"We're doing what we can to strengthen the youth programs by making them available to more people," Rehbein said. "There's what you do in your department and what you do in your post.
"We stood up this year. We were counted this year. We showed, I believe, the people of this country that The American Legion had remained true to its principles."
Rehbein cited examples of the Legion supporting each of its Four Pillars: Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation, National Security, Americanism and Children & Youth. “I think the pillars are strong,” Rehbein said. “I think the organization ... is strong enough to keep those pillars upright. Strong enough to make those pillars support a lot of the foundation of this country.”
Showing their strong support for college-bound youth, about 250 motorcyclists pulled into Highland Post 201 in Louisville on Aug. 21 after completing their 1,200-mile Legacy Run from Indianapolis. The run netted nearly $620,000 in donations that will fund American Legion Legacy Scholarships – awarded to children of servicemembers who have died since Sept. 11, 2001.
Several featured speakers addressed convention delegates. VA Secretary Eric Shinseki gave what he called a seven-month report on VA’s performance, and promised to reduce homelessness among veterans.
Shinseki pointed to the over-representation of veterans among groups with mental health issues, drug abuse, alcoholism and homelessness. He said the new presidential administration, and his agency in particular, are working hard to correct this problem, as well as enroll many more eligible veterans into VA health care, which currently only serves a fraction of those eligible. He also said the staggering backlog of benefits claims currently facing VA case workers will be addressed.
Gen. David H. Petraeus, who leads the U.S. Central Command, was awarded The American Legion’s Distinguished Service Medal. Rehbein quoted critics who had questioned Petraeus’ “surge” strategy. “Yet Gen. David Petraeus, the chief advocate of the military troop surge and the commander of the Multi-National Forces – Iraq, refused to share this pessimism,” Rehbein said. “He never lost faith in America’s fighting men and women. He would be the first to tell you that the credit for the success in Iraq belongs to those who served and are still serving over there.”
Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that trust and a partnership borne of understanding – not simply military might – is what is needed to quell conflicts and establish rules of law in troubled regions of the Middle East.
“Despite all that’s been done to bring stability to that region, really since the end of World War I, we are still learning about the various cultures that shape the region’s landscape,” Mullen said. “Because understanding takes time and without consistent engagement – a willingness to see things from another’s perspective – there will always be a trust deficit. And where trust is lacking, partnerships falter.”
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told Legionnaires that her agency wants to be identified as a resource for preparedness rather than a purveyor of fear. With its disaster preparedness education programs already in place, “the Legion is in a unique position to help,” she said.
Napolitano appealed for the Legion’s assistance in meeting not just threats posed by terrorists, but during weather emergencies – evidenced by recent flooding in Louisville itself – and disease, such as the expected outbreak of the H1N1 “swine” flu this fall.
“The Legion and its Auxiliary (have) been supporters (of our efforts) in the past and I am asking you to re-energize that participation and that partnership with us,” she said.
The Legion also reaffirmed its troop-support mission by signing an agreement with the Armed Forces Community Covenant. Rehbein and all 55 American Legion department commanders signed the agreement, along with Mullen, Petraeus, National Guard Maj. Gen. Edward Tonini, U.S. Army Reserve Maj. Gen. Paul Hamm, Miss America Katie Stam, and U.S. Reps. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., and John Yarmuth, D-Ky
The agreement reads, in part, that the Legion pledges to “create and encourage a strong relationship between those communities and the military personnel who live and serve in them.”