Alaska Legion post to share military, post-military experience with prospective recruits

Alaska Legion post to share military, post-military experience with prospective recruits

When Vince Winter became commander of Henry "Gene" Burton Sr. Memorial American Legion Post 13 in Sitka, Alaska, three years ago, one of the things he wanted to do was reinvigorate the post’s programs and renovate the post facility.

But another goal was to become involved with the community’s youth with the post. That started with providing challenge coins to young men and women entering the military after graduating from high school. But now that effort has expanded to reaching out to potential military candidates before they enlist, to provide them a view of both the military and post-military life.

On May 13, Post 13 is hosting a military Q&A session in which members of the post will be on hand to answer questions from high school students about what to expect both while in the military and when that service is over. The students are encouraged to bring their parents or guardians; a free meal will be provided to all that attend.

Winter said with Sitka being such a remote area, sometimes the issues are different for its citizens and that military recruiters don’t always understand that.

“We deal with a lot of stuff out here with our kids that veterans deal with every day,” said Winter, a U.S. Army veteran. “The opportunities here are completely different. And the recruiters come in here and they do the best that they can, but they’re not always answering questions the best way they can because they’re still in (the military). They don’t understand what life is outside the realm as well.

“We thought it would be a great opportunity because we were already working with the recruiters when they come here. We’re getting them into the schools because of the ties that we’ve built.”

The post also has extended invitations to the Q&A session to teachers and guidance counselors. Recruiters from the Army, Coast Guard and National Guard will be in attendance. The Coast Guard recruiter also will have Space Force paperwork available for those interested in that path.

“We can tell them what to expect while in the service, share our experiences, and then what they need to do when they get out of the service and how to prepare for it,” Winter said. “That’s one thing the military never taught any of us: how to prepare for life afterward. They train us to do our jobs, and when we get out we’re kind of lost. They give us that DD-214, and when you’re still a young kid, you don’t know that your DD-214 is a ticket to everything. At the time you just shove it in your back pocket, and you forget about it.

“So, we want them to be armed with everything they can be. They can come talk to us one on one. We want to get these young leaders in here so they can understand what to look for.  They can ask all the questions they want.”

Included in that guidance will be advice as to what specific job within the military each potential recruit can look for. “We can gear them toward jobs that will benefit them in the long run,” Winter said. “We have a debate team here at the high school that I think is a 10-year champion. These people should be looking at cyber-intelligence or flying drones or something. If these individuals can ask, ‘Hey, I want to know more about this job,’ it makes it a little bit more direct and better (when talking to a recruiter) so that when they get out (of the military) they’re more secure.”

Winter also said the post’s effort to assist in military recruiting comes at a time when the U.S. Armed Forces were 41,000 people short of its recruiting goal for fiscal 2023.

“We need to step up as veterans. Right now, the national security crisis is unreal,” he said. “Our numbers are down. And these people are the ones protecting our front lines. We need to get these people in there to where they can do the most good for us.”