Stepping into a young veteran’s home, George Blackard saw the guy needed more than temporary financial assistance could offer. He had a table and chairs, and that was about it.
Blackard and Andrew Pearson Post 117 in Billings, Mont., got to work, using every connection they had. The post service officer called his church’s food bank. The post commander took the veteran downtown to apply for public assistance. Other members looked for job leads. “In the end, we got food for him, we got insurance for him, we got a bike for his daughter, we got his truck fixed,” Blackard says. “When everybody does their part, it comes together, and you get a great result.”
That’s what he envisioned when he started his American Legion post in 2011. Blackard wanted it to be known for helping veterans, and active in the community. Named for a local Army captain who was killed in Iraq, the post has grown to 200 members. Like Blackard, they’re doers. A Vietnam veteran needs his house painted? They’re on it. A widow can’t mow her yard? Taken care of. Cabela’s wants a few veterans to raise the U.S. flag out front? Absolutely. “It’s a team effort,” he says.
Word-of-mouth helps, but Blackard is a believer in good publicity and first impressions. He’s a regular guest on a Billings radio show, where he talks about what the Legion is doing around town and across the state. And wherever he goes, he’s got his Legion cap on, offering a firm handshake followed by, “Hi, I’m George with The American Legion. How can I help?”
Sometimes it’s as simple as inviting a person to an activity or event. One of Blackard’s favorite stories is about a Vietnam vet who had no interest in the Legion and other groups but, when encouraged to come hear an author speak, showed up. He ended up joining and serving as a post commander.
“That’s probably my best Legion experience,” he says. “I gained a close friend and comrade, and his wife has told me it’s changed his life. I don’t know how it gets better than that.”
Branch of Service Navy (1987-1989), Navy Reserve (1989-1994)
Rank Petty officer third class
Military job Boiler technician
American Legion post Andrew Pearson Post 117, Billings, Mont.
Years in The Legion 10
- National Conventional Warfare Council (2017-present)
- National Legislative Council (2015-present)
- Department Americanism chairman (2016-present)
- Department parliamentarian (2015-present)
- Department congressional liaison (2015-present)
- District commander (2013-2014)
- Post media relations officer (2011-present)
- Post commander (2011-2012)
- Post adjutant (2009)