Commander: Stay the course

Newly elected American Legion National Commander Mike Helm wants his fellow Legionnaires to "stay the course" this year to "continue to live and honor the great traditions and values established by our founders nearly a century ago. These policies and traditions that got us here will continue to guide us forward."

Helm was elected national commander on Aug. 28 during the 96th American Legion National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. A U.S. Army Rangers veteran and member of Jack Helt Post 313 in Lebanon, Neb., Helm has served as post, county, district, department and national vice commander, and has chaired the National Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation and Foreign Relations commissions. He will use his VA&R experience this year to focus on current issues with the Department of Veterans Affairs.

"Under the leadership of our (immediate Past National Commander Dan Dellinger), we have drawn the line in the sand," Helm said. "We say now that the health-care needs of the individual veteran must be met in a timely manner. We say that the VA can do a better job in the claims and appeals process. At the same time, we will continue to seek out answers to what went wrong at the VA and why it went wrong. We know that what happened wasn’t an accident or a circumstance. There is an entrenchment in VA that is not helpful to veterans’ health care or compensation. We will find it and get rid of it.

At the same time, we will continue to support the VA as a national provider of veterans’ health care. We need our VA medical facilities because we know it can be and is the best care anywhere if administrated properly. Those calling for the end of the VA and privatization of veterans health care are wrong. We continue to see The American Legion as partners and friends of the VA. We know they can and will do better."

National security also is on Helm’s radar. "We will also continue our efforts to end illegal immigration," he said. "It is a national security issue of great importance. Fair and legal immigration is a good thing that has helped build this country into a great nation. Anything else is a constant danger – especially amnesty proposals which seek to reward illegal behavior and penalize those who have waited patiently to immigrate the legal way."

When it comes to membership growth, Helm said he wants Legionnaires to focus on the four Rs: recruiting, revitalization, renewals and reconnecting. "We will always be about service first, but folks, we can’t provide the programs or the service without the membership," Helm said. "Practice those four Rs. Recruit every eligible veteran that you come in contact. Recruit their sons, grandsons, wives, daughters and granddaughters into the American Legion family.

"You don’t need to be near a military base to reconnect with servicemembers. Reserve and guard units have deployed in record numbers since 9/11, and most are eligible for American Legion membership. "Renewal efforts shouldn’t just include those who left your post in the past year, but check back on those who might have left five or even 10 years ago. They might have had a change of heart or simply forgot to renew because nobody was pro-active enough to take an interest in them."

Elected as national vice commanders were Doug Haggan, Department of France; Paul O. Sanford, Department of Kansas; Richard W. Neville, Department of North Carolina; William R. Bryant, Department of Virginia; and Gerald L. Jacobs, of Wyoming. Also appointed were National Historian Sue Mason, Department of California; National Sergeant-at-Arms Leon Hagan, Department of Nebraska; and National Chaplain Randy Cash, Department of South Carolina.