Over the past year, you heard a great deal about the LEGION Act. Indeed, President Trump’s signing of that historic legislation – also known as the Let Everyone Get Involved in Opportunities for National Service Act – opens our doors to an estimated 4.2 million wartime veterans who were not previously eligible to join The American Legion.
When you consider the number of close relatives each of these veterans have, the 3-million-member American Legion Family has the potential to grow exponentially. But we are who we always were: an organization of wartime veterans. We didn’t call for the LEGION Act to increase membership. We did so out of fairness and respect for the approximately 1,600 men and women who died or were wounded in the line of duty during periods since Dec. 7, 1941, not previously recognized by Congress as wartime. The survivors – and their brothers and sisters in arms – earned the right to be called Legionnaires.
They are now eligible to join our great organization. And it is very much to their benefit and ours that we seek them out and welcome them into our posts, wholeheartedly.
It is a sad reality that veterans of past war eras do pass on, but another reality rarely gets mentioned. More than 180,000 veterans joined The American Legion in the 2019 membership year, before the LEGION Act was signed. Now, with the signing of the LEGION Act, we are poised to exceed that growth. That means more new faces to help veterans, mentor youth, support troops and serve communities.
Last year, 11 departments in The American Legion grew. If they can do it, so can all 55. We also have six “king-sized” posts ranging from more than 2,000 members each to nearly 7,000. The number of American Legion posts in the United States is more than double that of Walmarts. We are in communities across the country.
Talk to neighbors and friends you think might be veterans. Strike up conversations with people who have military-themed or base-access stickers on their cars. Tell them why you belong to The American Legion and why you believe it’s a great opportunity for them as well.
During the week of The American Legion’s 100th birthday in March, we encouraged every member to engage in “buddy checks” – contacting our fellow Legionnaires and former members, and simply asking how they’re doing. We were taught to check on the welfare of our men and women while we served in the military, and that’s all this is. If members of your post feel ignored or neglected, they won’t stick around.
The most successful posts will be those that engage in buddy checks on a regular, consistent basis. So let’s all commit to another round of them during the week of Veterans Day. Again, increases in membership and renewal rates will be a nice result of this, but that is certainly not why we do it. We want our comrades to know that we truly care about their well-being. It matters not to me whether they are paid up for life or let their membership expire years ago. When we recite the Preamble to the Constitution of our American Legion, we pledge to “sanctify our comradeship by our devotion to mutual helpfulness.” Sounds like a buddy check to me.