By Tim Engstrom
MAHNOMEN — One topic we touched on at the Fall Conference was membership, and it reminded me that, when asking a veteran to join, they sometimes reply, “What’s in it for me?”
I have four things you can tell them:
1. Veteran support
You get an entire community of veterans and their families who will have your back in a heartbeat. Down on your luck? They will be there for you.
OK, maybe you had a bad experience at one post. Don’t quit the Legion. Join a post from a nearby town. They each have different flavors.
My wife and I have two sons, and we both work hard to provide for them, but — should we end up really down and out — we know the first place we would go is Bloomington Post 550. If I can talk to anyone freely, I can talk to them.
Sure, my post is known for its large donations to youth sports, but, unbeknownst to many in our town, my post has helped veterans discretely in multiple ways, whether financially, volunteer-wise or just getting groceries. Plus, we financially help MACV with its four-bedroom house for homeless veterans in our community.
Fellow veterans — and the rehabilitation and care of them — matter deeply to us.
2. Representation of veteran interests in Washington and St. Paul
Your Department of Minnesota was instrumental in getting the Veterans Restorative Justice Act passed in St. Paul. This already is helping scores of combat veterans. Your Department of Minnesota even was instrumental in getting the VA to extend the sunset date for Persian Gulf War syndrome claims. This effort continues to help veterans across America.
The American Legion is working at all levels to represent veterans, whether in building a veterans memorial in your town or building the World War I Memorial in D.C.
Many organizations might do fancy fundraisers and help veterans a little here and a little there, which is super, of course, but many of them do not lobby Congress.
I tell prospects this, “If you want to pass the VA health care, the G.I. Bill and other veterans benefits to the next generation of veterans, join the Legion.”
To the most anti-joining types, I sometimes even say this, though it delivers a tinge of guilt: “You know, if you don’t join, you simply are taking advantage of the work our fathers and grandfathers did and then not doing your part.”
I’m sorry, but that’s how I feel about it.
3. Youth programs
The American Legion cares about the kids of America like no other organization does. Period.
I mean, just look at Minnesota American Legion Baseball as a prime example. It’s the biggest Legion Baseball program in the country. The Legion also has the Oratorical Contest, Junior Shooting Sports, Boys & Girls State, Fastpitch Softball and a host of scholarships. Plus, the posts donate to youth programs like Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, gun-safety training, youth hockey, volleyball, baseball, track, bowling, fishing, you name the sport. Those headsets the football coaches at Bloomington Kennedy wear? They didn’t come from tax dollars.
Why does the Legion do so much for youth? Well, after we served our nation, veterans want to serve their communities. Youth programs do the double-duty of getting veterans into their communities and not stuck at home. When children meet America’s military heroes, it’s not just benefitting the kids.
What’s the best thing about going to the Fall Conference, the Department Convention or any other event that brings Legionnaires together from across the state of Minnesota?
The camaraderie, of course.
It was great to see new and familiar faces and being reminded how we veterans are all in this together. I would encourage you to attend one if you have never been. When you spend time with these soldiers, sailors, airmen and, yes, even the Marines, you get rejuvenated.
Just kidding, Leathernecks.
Veterans seem to feed off being around other veterans.
Lots of smiles. Lots of hearty laughs. Lots of friendships. Who wouldn’t want to be part of that?
Tim Engstrom of Bloomington Post 550 is the editor of The Minnesota Legionnaire. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.