Post-9/11 veterans look to re-energize California Post 123

Since 1919, The American Legion has been devoted to mutual helpfulness. It’s that helpfulness, or teamwork, that enables the nearly 100-year-old organization to continue its legacy of service to veterans and their families. The excitement and energy brought by a young group of Legionnaires, who are being lead by a few who have a great deal of experience, is a living example of the Legion's legacy and vision.

At the end of a beautiful day in the famous beach town of Santa Monica, Calif., American Legion Post 123 had its installation of officers. This year many are newer members, and a lot younger, with new energy and new enthusiasm, inlcuding six post-911 veterans who are part of Post 123's leadership team for the first time in its history. The new officers also include longtime Legionnaires, such as Anna Brown who has 72 years of continuous American Legion membership.

Past National Executive Committeeman Hugh Crooks, who has also held nearly every position in the Department of California, has been the installing officer for the past several years. He expressed concern that each year there were less and less members to be installed, but this year he was excited about a new corps of officers. “It was especially fulfilling to see that the majority of the officers were new members under the age of 40 and enthusiastic about filling the positions,” Crooks said. “It was emotional knowing that these newer members were listening to the words of the ceremony.”

Newly inducted Second Vice Commander Christian Lozano, an Army veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, recently transferred to Post 123 with a number of post-911 veterans who have a vision for the future. “This post just needed help with anything and everything that we can. Myself and some other Legion members came from Post 283 and we got some new members to join as well," Lozano said. "We came here with the intent of growing this post and making it into a place that’s very welcoming to all veterans and families and guests in general.

“I joined five years ago and I feel that the legion has given me so much that this is my way of giving back."

Brown, a past commander of Post 123, was one a few who helped keep the post afloat. In her words she does a little bit of everything. “I am a past commander, went through the chairs. Right now I’m kind of an assistant finance officer,” she said. Brown served in the Marine Corps in World War II. “Then I joined The American Legion and have been active ever since.” She joined Santa Monica Women’s Post 704 and was a member there for 50 years until she transferred to Post 123 in 1995. “I've done things with The American Legion that I never would have done in regular civilian life.”

An impressive example of continuing The American Legion legacy, Brown is a mentor with a wealth of experience ready to help out the new leaders. “It really makes life worthwhile and interesting, and I am so glad to see these younger veterans coming out and they're really wanting to do things. I think that is great,” she said.

During the installation, Post 123 Commander Mark Hasson thanked everyone for joining the post and expressed his gratitude to those who have kept Post 123 going, which includes District First Vice Commander David Gibson. Gibson, an Army veteran of the Vietnam era, helped to coordinate the new growth through the revitalization program and for the first time in recent history Post 123 achieved 100 percent membership. “I am going to be here to help. I look forward to next year and it's going to be a great year," Gibson said. "Lets keep the ball moving.”

Along with recruiting new members, Post 123 accepted transfers from nearby Pacific Palisades Post 283. In a spirit of teamwork building toward the good of the entire American Legion, many were looking for leadership opportunities and believe in the potential of the Santa Monica post. Jere Romano, Post 283’s commander and District 24 second vice commander, has mentored most of the young members stepping into leadership at Post 123. He mentioned the importance of teamwork.

“We’re going to bring The American Legion back in this area of Santa Monica and it’s not about one person. The American Legion has never been about one person. It’s always been about a family, a Legion family," he said. "Only together with all those resources can this Legion achieve success.”

“Even though we are new to Post 123, we are not new to the American legion,” said Jared Morgan, a Marine Corps veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom. “Many of us have been members going on six or seven years.” Morgan is the new post adjutant. “This will be the first time that I've held this position,” he said. “I'm looking forward to learning about it and the Legion.”

Beau Espeso, an Air Force veteran and the youngest member of Post 123's new executive committee, was mentored by Romano who instilled the value of teamwork into the new leaders of Post 123. “I’m going to school at Santa Monica college, I’m involved with the SVA (Student Veterans of America chapter) over there and I thought I could help out,” he said. Espeso is helping other Post 123 members recruit from Santa Monica College.

Espeso expressed his appreciation of the Post-9/11 GI Bill and how it has impacted his generation, and how he wants to give back by working together. “As The American Legion nationally we need to help each other out. The American Legion has helped out the community in a large way,” Espeso said. “Personally, my whole thing is 'how can I get the community involved with the Santa Monica post and get our name out there?'"

As a baseball umpire, Espeso is interested in revitalizing Legion Baseball in the area. So too is Bob Ryan, who has been the area Legion Baseball Commissioner for many years. Ryan was excited to have a young leader motivated to invigorate the local baseball program and was ready to pass on his experience with the program. “Just jump in and do what you can and give what time you can give,” Ryan advised.

That’s exactly what these six post-911 American Legion post leaders plan to do. “We're really excited to bring the energy to this post. We are looking to bring in more post-9/11 vets. We are looking to host more events,” Morgan said.

“I really believe in the Legion and what this post will soon have to offer in the future. That's what we all ultimately want and that's why we came,” Lozano said. “Because together, it’s going to be a fun time.”