American Legion kicks off BASE program
American Legion National Security Commission Chairman Matthew Shuman leads a town hall with about 50 Marines and their family members during the first BASE visit at Marine Corps Air Station in Yuma, Ariz., Oct. 23. (Photo by Henry Howard)

American Legion kicks off BASE program

American Legion volunteers and staff took a critical step in improving the lives of servicemembers and their families during the initial Base Assessment and Servicemember Experience (BASE) program visit at Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) in Yuma, Ariz., Oct. 23-24. 

National Security Commission Chairman Matthew Shuman, a member of Post 44 in Scottsdale, led the town hall meeting.

“I’m extremely thankful for the post leadership here, Col. Jared Stone and Sgt. Major Jason Davey,” he said. “They did a good job of marketing it, but not making it mandatory. There were single Marines, couples, spouses, children. There was an immense amount of diversity in the room. People cared.”

In 2022, The American Legion created the BASE program to address quality of life matters that affect servicemembers and their families. Modeled after the Legion’s System Worth Saving visits to VA health-care facilities, the BASE program kicked off with a town hall that was attended by about 50 Marines, base leadership and MCAS staff members.

“All of us are here because we care and we’re here to try and solve your problems,” said Stone, the base commanding officer who validated the issues raised throughout the two-plus-hour town hall.

That led to an open dialogue and fostered a discussion about life for active-duty troops and their families on the base, which is roughly 10 miles from the Mexican border. The base — located in a rural community, about three hours southwest of Phoenix — provides the premier ranges for advanced air-to-ground and air-to-air training in the Marine Corps.

The day after the town hall, the Legion delegation met with Stone, Davey and others; toured the facility; and dined and chatted with about 15 active-duty Marines about their quality of life issues. Among the key topics from the town hall, tour and meetings: child care, base housing and barracks, community relations, access to health care (especially for women) and amenities such as the fitness center and recreational options for families with children.

Shuman said the findings, solutions and other details will be compiled into a report that will be shared first with Yuma leadership. After gathering feedback, the report will then be shared with the Department of Defense (DoD), Defense Health Agency and members of Congress. The report, expected by the end of the year, will be a catalyst for implementing solutions at MCAS Yuma and other DoD facilities.

“This is not just an American Legion report,” he said. “We’re going to share it and say, ‘The American Legion is building out this massive program. Give us the data points, best practices and questions that you want so we can make sure these reports are effective.’”

The end goal is to work collaboratively to improve the quality of life for servicemembers and their families.

“This is not a ‘gotcha’ report,” Shuman said. “This is going to highlight issues that need to be addressed but also what is working. Every base has their thing that is really special. We need to capture that, share that with other installations. With the impact being improved conditions for servicemembers at home and abroad.”

Department Commander Steven Sperl, a retired Air Force master sergeant who left in 2011, recalled his first duty station in England in the 1980s. He was married and had a child. Back then, rent was roughly $1,600 a month in U.S. dollars.

“This provides a great mechanism for The American Legion to be a voice for the servicemembers,” said Sperl, a member of American Legion Post 36 in Tucson. “It was a struggle. It would have been nice to have the voice back then for us.”

Sperl saw the event as the potential start of a longer-lasting commitment.

“It’s always good to lead from the front and it’s an honor to be the first state as this event kicks off,” he said, noting that a follow-up would be beneficial. “It’s about making a difference. This could be the start of a great foundational element. We cannot let this message dim at all.”