Passionate, active involvement with U.S. military personnel is so embedded in The American Legion’s culture, we don’t even think about it anymore. Unfortunately, too many others don’t think about it either. When I tell Department of Defense officials and Family Readiness Groups what the Legion does to assist men and women in uniform, along with their families, too often I hear the response, “I had no idea the Legion did that.”
That is why I have directed National Headquarters staff to create a special email account – firstname.lastname@example.org – for Legion members and supporters to send examples of all they do to support those currently serving. Submissions may be published in Legion national media, or included in reports and testimony in Washington. I am confident we have 1,000 or more stories of Legion troop support to tell.
Across the country, Legionnaires humbly conduct a wide variety of meaningful activities for the military community, from job fairs to demobilization briefings, from Family Support Network volunteerism to the delivery of Temporary Financial Assistance cash grants. The Legion’s list of grass-roots military-support initiatives varies from place to place, depending on proximity to bases and the size and composition of the community. Efforts include posts that have adopted National Guard or reserve units, coordination of Heroes to Hometowns programs, and military-funeral security provided by American Legion Riders. With the holidays now upon us, it’s a safe bet that at this very minute a Legionnaire near you is filling gift boxes, buying phone cards, planning a welcome-home dinner or baby-sitting for a military spouse. Every gesture matters. We know what we do. Others, however, do not.
A recent Pentagon report identified 13 community-based organizations around the country that collectively represent a “groundswell of support” for those serving in uniform, veterans and their families. The Legion, which has been a leader in troop support worldwide for more than 90 years, was noticeably absent from the list. I asked around about this and discovered that many in DoD, including some top officials, simply are not aware of all that the Legion does.
DoD and VA have an understandable concern, with so many different organizations wanting to help military families or newly discharged veterans. That concern is coordination. Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen described a “chasm” he says exists between the military and civilian communities. And former Defense Secretary Robert Gates said “DoD cannot do it alone” when military personnel or newly discharged veterans need help.
Transition assistance and military support are among the most important values of the Legion. And, with nearly 14,000 local posts, no organization is better positioned to provide direct assistance or to coordinate community efforts. Modesty may be a virtue, but the effectiveness of Legion troop-support programs is a story we need to tell at the local, state and national levels. The troops and families we seek to serve need to know that the Legion indeed does all of this.