Minnesota Legion answers 'all hands on deck' call

Since 2008, The American Legion Department of Minnesota’s has provided care packages to U.S. servicemembers deployed overseas. That kind of experience is what enabled Minnesota Legionnaires to quickly put together more than 300 care packages for more than 300 members of the Minnesota Air National Guard who in April were being deployed to an undisclosed location with no access to a commissary.

“We have been doing this for so many years that the program has become a well-oiled machine,” said District 4 Public Relations Chairman Teresa Ash, a member of Christie-Deparcq Post 406 in St. Paul, a past District 4 commander and the wife of Past Department Commander Mike Ash. “When I said ‘all hands on deck,’ everybody stepped up to the plate. This was a quick turnaround deployment, and it needed to be a quick turnaround Shop, Ship and Share and get those packages overseas.”

Ash said she received a text from one of the officers being deployed from the 148th Fighter Wing in Duluth, Minn. – “He couldn’t tell me when, he couldn’t tell me where,” she said. The officer asked if the Legion had any extra items left over that it could provide to the airmen.

“My husband and my son have both been deployed multiple times,” Ash said. “When you say ‘leftovers,’ that’s not good enough for me for them. They deserve nothing but the best.”

The Department of Minnesota does one big Shop, Ship and Share event a year, and Ash said she didn’t want to burden those donors who have helped the annual program

"You can burn people out by asking them for too much too often,” Ash said. “When we do the big Shop, Ship and Share we go through the schools. We didn’t go through the schools on this one. This one … it popped up, and it was an all hands on deck. Everybody went out to new people, new agencies, new vendors, new businesses and new volunteers.”

The Legion reached out to other organizations, businesses and agencies in the community, including the Minnesota Timberwolves and the St. Paul Police Department. The latter said helping out was an easy decision.

“They approached us with an offer to support the effort and we jumped at the chance,” said Claire Bjerke, Public Information Specialist with the department. “Any time we can support our troops, their families and local organizations, we are happy to do so. They do so much for our country, and this donation is the least we can do.”

Britney Broch, second vice commander of Arcade-Phalen Post 577 in St. Paul and a dispatcher with the Minneapolis Police Department, praised the St. Paul Police Department for stepping up when asked. “The St. Paul Police Department, they really like to get involved, especially with everything including veterans or military,” she said. “A lot of them are veterans.”

After gathering all the donated items, the care packages were assembled and mailed out and were expected to reach the airmen within a few weeks.

Ash said providing the care packages, both on an annual basis on a larger scale and in instances such as the recent effort, are part of the department’s mission.

“The American Legion is about veterans serving veterans: past, current and future,” she said. “These guys that are on deployment, they don’t get to take a year off. They get to come home but they’re still working their military career. Our sole purpose is to support that all the time.”