There are two words that have always accompanied my travels as a Legionnaire and will continue to do so this year, as national commander. They are "pride" and "purpose."
You'll continue to hear this alliteration over the coming months because it succinctly states what this organization is really about. "Purpose" is what a devoted group of war-weary veterans felt when they came home from Europe 90 years ago, understanding that they had stood beside their comrades during combat in the trenches, understanding that they still needed to stand beside their comrades as they came home. Their fellow veterans needed them, just as ours need us now, and so they founded The American Legion. The purpose they felt then is with us now, 90 years later, and will continue to stay with us for generations to come. The need to serve each other, our country and our communities is the essence of our long and successful place in America.
That sense of purpose is fueled by the other "p" – pride. Indeed, we do take pride in the uniform we once wore. We take pride that we've chosen to continue serving our fellow veterans, our troops, and our own local communities. We take pride in our flag and all that it means.
I will never forget the 90th National Convention of The American Legion in Phoenix, where I was elected to lead this great organization. The most unforgettable part of the convention was not a moment I spent on the stage. It was the Military Tribute to Service, the convention's mass enlistment/re-enlistment program conducted in the U.S. Airways Center, where hundreds of young men and women raised their right hands and took the oath of service in unison. That moment brought back memories and filled many of us in attendance with pride, the kind of pride we need to keep showing our troops. They need to know our support for them and all they are accomplishing is unwavering.
We, as veterans and Legionnaires, can demonstrate that support by facing some serious challenges those in uniform are not yet thinking about. Congress made a big improvement last year by passing a record VA health-care budget, but VA's suspension of Category 8 veterans remains in place. Those with the greatest ability to assist in the cost of their own care – Category 8 veterans – should have access to VA health care returned to them. That's just one example.
We need to increase the size of our armed forces because we have multiple challenges around the world that can only be met with a robust U.S. military presence. We saw the effect last year's troop surge had in Iraq. That move showed that when given adequate force levels, America can make profound progress and bring stability in nations vulnerable to terrorists and tyrants. For millions of people around the world, hope for freedom from such oppression relies on American strength.
We must maintain the ability to find and destroy terrorists wherever they are – Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan or on our own soil. We cannot allow political timidity to stop us. To fail is to open the door to attack, to leave our children and grandchildren vulnerable and to let down entire nations that depend on our strength, our pride and our purpose. That is what The American Legion is all about.