Focusing on quality of life for military members
Photo by Hilary Ott /The American Legion

Focusing on quality of life for military members

A “large number of servicemembers and their family members” are on SNAP or other food assistance programs.

That was among the key takeaways from a presentation by Air Force veteran Patrick Flood, the senior national security policy adviser to Rep. Don Bacon. Flood discussed quality-of-life issues on military bases during the National Security Commission’s meeting at The American Legion’s annual Washington Conference on Feb. 26.

Flood illustrated how food insecurity plays a role in maintaining a strong national defense.

“If we lose that fight, if we lose that kitchen table conversation, where parents and guardians no longer recommend — or perhaps oppose — military service for our sons and daughters, this enterprise is in jeopardy,” he warned. “And we are seeing evidence of that.”

Flood, an American Legion member, said the House Armed Services Committee has been researching quality-of-life matters and expects to submit a report by the end of March. It’s been roughly a year in the making.

The committee has also been looking at other issues such as pay and compensation, housing, health-care access, child care and spousal support. “These problems are going to require more work than just the Department of Defense,” he said. “It’s going to require a national commitment.”

The American Legion is already playing a major role in the quality of life issue.

In 2022, The American Legion created its Base Assessment and Servicemember Experience (BASE) program to address quality-of-life matters that affect servicemembers and their families. It is modeled after the Legion’s System Worth Saving visits to VA health-care facilities.

The first BASE visit was conducted at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma (Ariz.). The Yuma report, now in its final stage before release, is going through a process to take into account the interviews conducted and observations during the visit, as well as various military services, policies and procedures.

“I owe a tremendous amount of debt and gratitude to The American Legion,” said Flood, an alum of American Legion Buckeye Boys State. “The Legion remains in this very vast, large nation of ours, the most important and also the most compelling voice in issues facing the nation. The work you do is so very important.”

Commission members also learned about border security from a first-person perspective from retired Marine Chief Warrant Officer Gerard Brinkmann, a member of American Legion Post 24 in Tombstone, Ariz. Brinkmann, who also is a member of the National Security Council and department American Legion Riders chairman, has worked for the U.S. Border Patrol since 2014.  

Brinkmann discussed the various ebbs and flows he has seen in illegal immigration, noting he has arrested the same person three times in one shift 

“The rhetoric is what drives illegal immigration,” he said. “If you build it, they will come. If you make it seem like they are welcome, they will come. If you start prosecuting, they start not coming in. We need consequences.” 

The solution is simple, Brinkmann said. 

“We need to start enforcing the laws on the books and look at real border reform,” he recommended. 

Col. Matthew Coates, the vice chairman of the National Guard Counter Drug Program, outlined how the drug epidemic has changed. He discussed the rise in fentanyl, which is 50 times stronger than heroin.  

Coates explained why cartels have pivoted toward the drug, saying it only takes $800 to produce 415,000 fentanyl pills, which have a street value of about $1.2 million. It’s also easy to transport. Fentanyl representing the size of a sugar packet equates to about 1,700 doses. 

More than 100,000 people have died annually due to fentanyl use. 

The infusion of fentanyl into the United States can be linked back to China and Mexico, Coates explained. “There is complicity with the Chinese entities.”  

Coates discussed how his unit operates. “Our specific mission is to support the detention, interdiction, disruption and curtailment of drug trafficking and activities,” he said, noting they have trained more than 700 agents at five different centers across the U.S.

 Coates, a member of American Legion Post 250 in Middleburg, Fla., said his office is seeking assistance and support from Legion Family members.

“You are our tie-in to the community,” he said. “Part of our prevention line of effort is to get the message out and that’s where you can help.”