Attendees of the 99th National Convention in Reno in August can support cutting-edge genomics research into precision medicine for veterans by enrolling in the Million Veteran Program (MVP) and donating a blood sample for genomic research.
The VA initiative is building the world’s most robust database of genetic, military exposure, lifestyle and health information, and is seeking DNA samples from Legionnaires. It is more than halfway to its goal of 1 million samples, and needs attendees’ help to get it over the top.
MVP will have a booth in the exhibit hall (Hall 2, 1st Floor) at Reno-Sparks Convention Center where informed consent and blood samples will be taken – it only takes about 15 minutes! The process entails verification of enrollment in the VA system; a short medical brief; and the taking of a small blood sample. The exhibit hall’s hours are:
Friday, Aug. 18, 8 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.
Saturday, Aug. 19, 8 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.
Sunday, Aug. 20, 8 a.m. – 2 p.m.
Monday, Aug. 21, 8 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.
Tuesday, Aug. 22, 8 a.m. – 2 p.m.
Click here to read more about the Million Veteran Program.
An Indiana post used a local radio station to celebrate both Black History Month and the story of its namesake.
Otis Stone Post 354 in Evansville was first chartered in 1929. Stone, a Kentucky native who moved to Evansville when he was 20, went to France as an Army mess sergeant in June 1918. He developed pneumonia over the winter, and died in January 1919. His name is on the city’s World War I monument, dedicated in 1926, listed as “colored.” Only one other name is listed the same.
Post Service Officer/Historian Luther Nixon spent years searching for information on Stone, and eventually “found out quite a bit about him from his birth up until his death,” he says. In 2004, the post was rededicated in Stone’s honor; Nixon read his history aloud.
The post that bears Stone’s name made a name for itself almost from the beginning – in 1939, its drum corps marched in the National Convention Parade in Chicago. Today it is active from sponsoring Oratorical contestants, to conducting Memorial Day ceremonies, to competing in department poppy contests.
Last year, Post Commander/Adjutant William VanHooks Jr. decided to take word of the post to the airwaves. He went to the manager of local station WEOA, and finalized a script that included VanHooks reading off a short bio of Stone and information about the post today. It aired in February as part of Black History Month.
This opportunity is only the beginning for VanHooks, who says, “It’s about community service.” To that end, he is reaching out to increase the post’s activities within the Department of Indiana as well – and Post 354’s nominee for the department Military Person of the Year (active-duty), Staff Sgt. China Amber Lee, received the award at the department convention in July. “My goal,” VanHooks concludes, “is to get us back to being an American Legion.”
Tymber Long was boarding a plane when she received a call from her mother, Amy, telling her to check her email. By phone, Tymber opened her email account to find that she was a 2017 recipient of The American Legion Legacy Scholarship. When she excitedly called her mom back to tell her the news, she learned that her sister, Sydney, was also a recipient.
“To know that you have an organization like (The American Legion) behind you, supporting military families, makes the scholarship special. Means a lot when you’re a military family and (the Legion) is investing in you,” said 20-year-old Tymber of Lincoln, Neb., who is a junior at Bentley University in Waltham, Mass. “I don’t think that we can thank The American Legion enough.”
Sydney, an 18-year-old freshman at the University of Nebraska, agreed. “A huge thank you because (this scholarship) is awesome,” she said. “We’ll make you proud; we’ll work hard.”
This is the first year that The American Legion expanded the Legacy Scholarship’s eligibility and aid. Since the attacks on 9/11, the scholarship has provided college money for the children of U.S. military personnel killed on active duty on or after Sept. 11, 2001. Now, the scholarship has expanded to include children of post-9/11 veterans with a combined VA disability rating of 50 percent or higher, awarding up to $20,000 in aid.
For The American Legion to open the Legacy Scholarship up to children of the disabled is “huge,” said Amy, a member of Auxiliary Unit 3 in Lincoln. “Thank you, we appreciate it very much. My girls won’t forget the gift that the Legion gave them.”
Tymber and Sydney received the scholarship in honor of their father’s 23 years of military service. After retiring from the Nebraska National Guard in 2011, Mark is humbled that the Legion is investing in his children’s future and honoring his service.
“(The scholarship) is just going to be a huge benefit to the girls, and I’m very appreciative that they have been selected by the Legion,” said Mark, a member of American Legion Post 3. “They are both top tier kids, top tier students and citizens. I think it’s going to be a good investment, and they will pay it forward eventually.”
As military kids, Tymber and Sydney have always found ways to serve and give back to veterans and their families. For example, they are both members of Auxiliary Unit 3, Nebraska Auxiliary Girls State alumni, and they volunteered at the local VA, serving popcorn and pushing the coffee cart.
“My dad’s service is really important to me because it opened my eyes to the sacrifice that military personnel and their families give,” Sydney said. “I will always remember my dad’s deployments and the sacrifice that my mom had to give for all of us. I think this scholarship is always going to help me remember it was worth it.”
The sisters said the Legacy Scholarship is going to help bridge the financial gap which in turn will make graduate school a possibility for Tymber, who is studying managerial economics with a concentration in law, and studying abroad a reality for Sydney, who is studying marketing and hospitality and tourism. “(The Legacy Scholarship) is going to make all the difference,” Tymber said.
Overall, the Long family is extremely grateful to The American Legion and Legion Riders for making the Legacy Scholarship a possibility and bestowing the award upon them.
“I want to thank the Legion and everyone that contributes to help these kids. We’ve always tried to save for college for the girls but it seems like no matter how much you save there’s going to be a huge gap between the cost of what you can afford and what college really costs,” Amy said. “This scholarship allows us to bridge that gap and give them opportunities that they might not otherwise had. So thank you.”
The Internal Revenue Service is recruiting eligible individuals, under the Special Hiring Authorities for Veterans or Schedule A hiring authority, for seasonal contact representative positions during the 2018 tax filing season.
Vacancy announcements now appear on USAJobs and application deadlines vary by location. The soonest anticipated hiring date for these positions also varies by location, but begins in mid-October. The IRS will post announcements for other positions throughout the summer and early fall.
Complete details regarding the positions, duties, qualifications and benefits are contained in the online announcements. Veterans interested in this employment opportunity can apply online, and should be prepared to upload:
• Their résumé;
• Their DD 214;
• A veteran disability determination letter (if any); and
• Any applicable college transcripts.
Veterans with a non-service connected disability may qualify for non-competitive appointments under the Schedule A Hiring Authority by showing proof of disability with a Schedule A certification letter from any licensed medical or vocational rehabilitation professional. The Schedule A letter should be dated, on organizational letterhead, and contain the signature and title of the person authorized to issue disability certification letters.
The American Legion’s John Kamin was one of several veterans service organization representatives and members of Congress who testified July 17 in favor of H.R. 3218, the Harry W. Colmery Veteran Educational Assistance Act of 2017.
Kamin, assistant director in the Legion’s National Veterans Employment and Education Division, said that Colmery – an American Legion past national commander who drafted the original GI Bill – was a visionary when it came to recognizing the need for an educational benefit for those transitioning from the military into the civilian world.
“As a World War I veteran, Colmery knew firsthand the challenges of transitioning from war,” Kamin told members of the U.S. House Veterans’ Affairs Committee (HVAC). “He saw the potential for a benefit that didn’t create dependence, but would foster greater citizenship through economic empowerment. A benefit rooted in the idea that the individual, not the government, could decide how and where to use it. A benefit that would challenge the status quo that education was the providence of the wealthy and the elite.”
H.R. 3218 would improve and extend GI Bill benefits granted to veterans, their surviving spouses and dependents. Specifically, it would:
• Remove time restrictions to use the GI Bill, enabling future eligible recipients to use their GI Bill benefits for their entire lives as opposed to the current 15-year timeline; and
• Simplify the benefit for future servicemembers by consolidating the GI Bill into a single program, which would reduce the VA's administrative costs.
The legislation also will:
• Provide significant increases in GI Bill funding for reservists and guardsmen, dependents, surviving spouses and surviving dependents;
• Provide 100 percent GI Bill eligibility to post-9/11 Purple Heart recipients;
• Restore eligibility for servicemembers whose school closes in the middle of a semester and creates a pilot program that would pay for veterans to take certain high technology courses.
“Most strikingly is making the GI Bill a ‘forever’ benefit,” Kamin said. “This has the potential to greatly increase GI Bill usage rates by providing servicemembers the flexibility they need to pursue their educational aspirations. As this committee affirms its commitment to veterans’ education, it is for us to rededicate our efforts to refining the GI Bill for the next generation.”
For Kamin, these improvements may seem small but the impact cannot be overstated. “Just as the original GI Bill was beyond any measurement at the time, the bills that this committee passes will have an impact beyond our years – not just on our veterans, but on the country as a whole,” he said.
Kamin said the Legion believes that numerous areas can be improved. He suggested the following:
• Increasing the State Approving Agencies (SAAs) funding from $19 million to a rate of $26 million so that SAAs can effectively perform their oversight responsibilities;
• Empowering our servicemembers and veterans to be informed consumers who can make the best choices they can on how to use their benefits; and
• Developing a solution that would provide GI Bill resources and start-up capital to small business, just as the original GI Bill did.
The legislation is sponsored by every HVAC committee member, is budget neutral, includes provisions that have been proposed and prioritized by VSOs, and unanimously passed the HVAC July 19. It has been referred it to the House floor.
“I can’t imagine a topic more worthy of our attention than ensuring that veterans have the education benefits they’ve earned and deserve,” HVAC Chairman Rep. Phil Roe said. “H.R. 3218 and how we got here, and where we are today, is a shining example of how well Congress can and should work together.”
American Legion National Commander Charles Schmidt praised the legislation.
“This bill, as currently written, would launch a new era for all who have honorably served in uniform and for the nation as a whole,” Schmidt said in a letter addressed to Roe’s office on July 11. “Just as The American Legion did when the original GI Bill was passed in 1944, and subsequent versions were introduced, we will fight for this improved version until it is sent to the president’s desk for his signature. The American Legion will continue to work closely with you to ensure that veterans and their families rally across this country for these improvements.”
For more information on H.R. 3218, click here.
After retiring from the Marines about five years ago, Gerry Smith opened Texas A&M’s office for veterans support and resources. In that brief time, the office has expanded and developed a unique, three-stage program to support student veterans throughout its campus career.
Texas A&M has a long history of supporting veterans. In fact, the university opened its first office for veterans in 1919. That office is still active today, focusing on educational benefits, scholarships and processing benefits.
The American Legion spoke with Smith, a member of Legion Post 159 in Texas, about Texas A&M’s role in helping veterans transition from the military to the civilian world.
The American Legion: How did the need for a second veterans office come about?
Gerald Smith: We found out in late 2008 that Texas A&M, even though it was one of our senior military colleges in the country, was not designated as a veteran friendly institution by Service Members Opportunity Colleges. Things started changing and over four years the need was determined to open a second office to specialize just in resource and support. That's what I opened in 2012. It was myself and an assistant kind of stuck in an office suite next to some other folks. We have grown in the five years. There are a total of 22 full- and part-timers now. We own the office suite now and we have a full complement of 25 programs that we run or support around campus.
TAL: What are some of the key programs that you've instituted that help veterans find employment, become entrepreneurs, etc.?
Smith: One of the first programs we built was our Aggie Veterans Network. The idea was to have a resource or individual to send student veterans to on campus, mostly academically related. Rather than saying, ‘Go see College of Liberal Arts,’ you could say, ‘Go see Mike over in the History Department. Here's his office number, email and phone.’ The Aggie Veterans Network grew by leaps and bounds. We managed it on a spreadsheet and when we hit about 500 contacts, it got unmanageable. We are trying to go to the Aggie Veterans Network 2.0 and web base it so that we can connect the resources with the student veterans directly and our office doesn't have to be in the middle of it.
TAL: Tell me about Texas A&M’s military admissions program.
Smith: It’s one of the most unique programs we have here at A&M. We have two full-time dedicated military admissions advisers. For a four-year public school, a lot of those institutions don't have any full-time dedicated. They have some part-time folks, sort of do it on the side as a collateral duty. We're very fortunate here. They see well over 120 new prospective student veterans every month. Either phone, email or walk-in. They're not recruiters. They are to help support the administrative process and the transition to Texas A&M. We have three core programs that really work in tandem. We connect them with the military admission program. Once they're admitted they're handed off to our peer advisers who use the Aggie Veteran Network to resource and connect students with opportunities for success.
TAL: Let's say I'm a veteran and I'm interested in a program that A&M offers. Walk me through that first point of contact and my rep in the admission program.
Smith: A lot of our student veterans don't know what's available and they unnecessarily limit their opportunities because a captain, a gunny, or somebody out there told them, ‘Yeah you were an infantryman, you can go be a law enforcement officer.’ Well, there's a lot more in this world for our veterans to do than just something tied to their MOS. Our admissions advisers will say, ‘Let's not talk about major. Tell me what you want to be doing in four, five, six years. What interests you?’ They work through, we call it, the academic initial triage discussion. They just get to know them. Find out what they like, what they dislike, what their strengths are, a little bit about the family situation and then they will make some recommendations on various majors to suit their individual kind of preferences. Then they'll link the up through our Aggie Veterans Network to some of the academic advisers in those majors and they can get more detailed help and assistance to help get them in the right major.
TAL: When the admission reps are talking with the veterans, are they also going over benefits like the GI Bill?
Smith: Not at that point. If they have specific questions about it, we will refer them to the other veterans office to get that support. Our goal is to get them on the right academic path and degree plan first and then we'll let them figure out how they're going to use their benefits, pay for it and minimize their student loan debt once we get them on that right path.
TAL: What’s the next step in the admissions process?
Smith: Now, as they go through the admission cycle, as soon as they apply within seven days we send them an initial email. It explains the resources we have, how to connect with other student veterans. Once we see that they are admitted, that's when we do the automatic pairing with a peer adviser, hopefully in the same college. That peer adviser will reach out to that new student vet that just got admitted and say, ‘Hey, congratulations. I know you got a lot of questions about moving here, housing, all these other things. Here's our orientation letter to talk about kind of the life support and transition. Take a look at this and then email me, call me. Let me help you out here.’ Then the students actually take over that process in helping them get transitioned to Texas A&M.
TAL: Let's talk a little bit more about the Aggie Veterans Network. Is this something where the students get involved early in their college careers or when they're looking to leave college and enter the workforce?
Smith: The Aggie Veterans Network, we use that as our kind of pool of resources. I guess the answer is yes, all of the above. If I get a student vet or an active duty service member that emails us and says he or she wants to come to Texas A&M, I reply and send them information out of the Aggie Veterans Network. The resources are there for the pre-admission side, the resources are there for the current students. We use community groups like The American Legion and other veterans support groups. We have about a dozen military affiliated student groups that support each other and our veterans and dependents. They're part of that network. We also have a number of employers for that next transition and our association of former students. Once our student veterans graduate, we keep them on a list and we pull them into our former student veterans pool. Now they're out there in the workforce, whether it's Amazon, Chevron, IBM, you name the company, we can reach out to them and that's corporate mentoring; sometimes it's geographic location. All different kinds of connections begin, it's using those that have plowed that ground before to help others follow in their footsteps.
TAL: What specific roles has the Legion, whether it's a post or the Department of Texas or individual Legionnaires, played?
Smith: It just so happens if you're in Bryan, Texas, our local Post 159 actually started on campus here in 1919. It actually started on campus and then it relocated into the community. American Legion Post 159 here is superb. When I looked to veteran organizations in the community, they're the paramount leader in our community. I got dialed in with the Legion at that point, through the local military coalition. What I learned was we had almost no student veterans. We have 1,200 student veterans, we had almost no student veterans as members of any of these organizations in town. The American Legion tended to be the older veterans and the younger veterans that were here, typically post 9/11, one they didn't know about it and there was no participation. We started bringing the American Legion to some of our events on campus. At orientation and throughout the school year. The American Legion has provided our student veterans support when they hit a critical financial challenge. They've helped them through some of those rough patches. They've hosted a local veterans legal initiative for free legal help. Rather than do it on campus, we opened it up to the community and the Legion hosted. The Legion here had made their Legion Hall available to any of our military affiliated student organizations free of charge.
TAL: Is there anything else I didn't ask you or something that you didn't mention that you'd like to?
Smith: What has really helped us guide our way is that application to vocation support model and tied to that we have designed four pillars. The application to vocation is kind of the when you support, the how you support is tied to the four pillars and I liken it to fitness. I tell student veterans I want them to be fit. They automatically think of physical fitness. We have reoriented them to start thinking in terms of academic fitness, financial fitness, career fitness and wellbeing, or social fitness. We believe that through our campus and community partners, anything that we can do to try to be proactive to help them reach out and pull these resources and enhance their fitness level in those four areas, we can set them up for success. That's kind of the tact we have taken here to try to get the application to vocation success.
A new Gallup poll reveals that a plurality of Americans (27 percent) say “the Air Force is the most important branch.” Setting aside the obvious – that no branch is more important than another since, like cylinders in an engine, each branch is essential to protecting and promoting U.S. interests – something on the near horizon may force Gallup to conduct a new poll about America’s “most important military branch.” It seems there’s growing support for standing up a brand-new branch of the U.S. armed forces.
Congressman Mike Rogers, R-Ala., who chairs the Strategic Forces Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee, argues it’s time to create a military branch fully and completely dedicated to defending U.S. interests in space.
“My vision for the future is a separate Space Force within the Department of Defense, just like the Air Force, which had to be separated from the Army in order to be prioritized and become a world-class military service,” Rogers explains.
Arguing that “now is the time for reform even if it is disruptive today,” he says, the move toward a Space Corps or a fully independent Space Force will begin “in my subcommittee’s mark this year and next.” Indeed, Rogers and Congressman Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., the subcommittee’s ranking member, announced in late June that their portion of the National Defense Authorization Act would “require the creation, under the secretary of the Air Force, of a new Space Corps, as a separate military service responsible for national security space programs” by Jan. 1, 2019.
Rogers and Cooper are not alone, and their idea is not new.
In 2000, a congressionally-appointed commission openly contemplated the establishment of “a Space Corps within the Air Force” to conduct “independent operations” in space and “to deter and defend against hostile actions directed at the interests of the United States.” The commission added that “in the longer term” it may necessary to create “a military department for space.”
More recently, John Hamre, deputy secretary of defense under President Clinton, concluded last year, “We are not well organized to deal with the new challenges we face in space. The old structure may have been sufficient when space was an uncontested area of operations. That time has passed.” He mentioned as possibilities creating a full-fledged U.S. Space Force, carving out “a Space Service ... within the Department of the Air Force” like the Navy-Marine Corps model or “elevating the Space Command to become equal in stature to the Strategic Command.”
Gen. James Cartwright, who commanded Strategic Command, also has pointed toward the need for new tools in defending U.S. interests in space: “Without adjustments to our strategy, we may not be able to count on unfettered access to space-based systems should others persist in their course of developing counter-space weapons.”
Understandably, the Air Force has a strong preference to remain the lead branch in space operations.
Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson and other USAF leaders argue that “space warfighting is consistent with operations in the air – for which the Air Force has well-developed command-and-control and operational doctrine ... USAF best practices learned from operating in the air domain can serve as a basis for developing corresponding mechanisms for addressing threats in space.”
Gen. John W. Raymond, commander of Air Force Space Command, adds, “The Air Force has led America’s national security operations in space for more than 60 years.” And Lt. Gen. David J. Buck, commander of the Joint Functional Component Command for Space, argues that defending U.S. interests in space “doesn’t require a clean-slate approach.”
However, Rogers has a compelling counterpoint: “Space must be a priority, and it can't be one if you jump out of bed in the morning thinking about fighters and bombers first.” He believes that “space needs to be put on par with the other domains of conflict – land, air, sea and cyber ... It cannot remain a subservient mission.” He estimates “getting from where we are now to a Space Force” could take “10 or 12 years.” He points to the post-World War II evolution of the Air Force as a model for today.
Even if they are less than eager to give up the space enterprise, Air Force leaders share Rogers’ view about the critical importance of space not just as a means to enable land, sea and air operations, but as a theater for operations.
“Space is now a warfighting domain,” USAF leadership recently explained in a report to Congress. “The space enterprise is no longer simply an enabler and force enhancer; it is an essential military capability and a key component of joint warfare.”
According to Raymond, “It is a national imperative that we posture ourselves to deter any conflict that would extend to space, and if deterrence were to fail that we fight and win. Our national security – and the security of our allies –depends on it.”
Indeed, it would be wrong to conclude that congressmen and strategists are steering America toward a military branch dedicated to space. To the contrary, they are merely following U.S. interests into space.
Consider the most recent Space Foundation report, which reveals a global space economy of more than $323 billion – up from $261.6 billion in 2009. More than 221,500 Americans work in the space sector. U.S. government space spending was $44.6 billion in 2015 (the most recent year with available data), and non-government space spending by U.S. firms was $32 billion that year. Of the 1,300 functioning satellites currently orbiting earth, 568 are American.
As Buck puts it, “Space is critical to the American way of life.” Yet most Americans are oblivious to how much we depend on space for communications, commerce, air travel and ground transport, emergency services and most notably, for national security.
Missile-defense ships prowling the Pacific, ground troops patrolling Afghanistan, UCAVs circling over Iraq and Libya, JDAMs strapped to fighter-bombers loitering over Syria, sensors monitoring Russian, Chinese and North Korean nukes, the communications systems that connect troops, weapons, bases, allies and the National Command Authority, the infrastructure and superstructure of the entire military – all of this depends on space assets.
That helps explain why the Air Force space-related budget will increase by $1.5 billion in 2018, why the Pentagon’s entire space budget for 2017 is $22 billion, why the Pentagon recently christened a National Space Defense Center, why the Air Force created a Space Mission Force last year and stood up a new office headed by a three-star general this year to advise Air Force brass on matters related to space, and why Air Force Space Command now numbers some 36,000 uniformed and civilian personnel.
The Pentagon and its industry partners are using these organizations and resources to reorient America’s military, keep pace with America’s adversaries, and conceive, test and deploy new assets for a new domain.
DARPA, for instance, has chosen Boeing to build a new experimental spaceplane, dubbed the XS-1, which will be capable of flying Mach 10 and delivering payloads of 3,000 pounds into low-earth orbit. “Ultimately, DARPA envisions from the XS-1 a fully reusable unmanned vehicle, the size of a business jet, which would take off vertically like a rocket and fly to hypersonic speeds,” Defense News reports. Scheduled to fly by 2020, the XS-1 will be able to deploy 10 times in a 10-day period.
Meanwhile, the Air Force X-37B spaceplane recently completed a record-setting 718-day orbit. As always, the mission was shrouded in secrecy. The Air Force is known to have two X-37Bs and has deployed them into space since 2010 – each mission longer than the previous. The X-37Bs are probably used to deploy and test new satellite systems but may also be used to monitor, shadow and even disable enemy satellites.
Why the urgency and activity? Two words: China and Russia.
A 2015 Pentagon report describes China’s space program as “the most rapidly maturing space program in the world.” A 2016 report adds, “PLA writings emphasize the necessity of ‘destroying, damaging and interfering with the enemy’s reconnaissance ... and communications satellites,’ suggesting that such systems, as well as navigation and early warning satellites, could be among the targets of attacks designed to ‘blind and deafen the enemy.’” Toward that end, “The PLA is acquiring a range of technologies to improve China’s counter-space capabilities.” These include “directed-energy weapons ... satellite jammers ... anti-satellite capabilities.”
China has conducted at least three tests of anti-satellite weapons (ASATs): a 2007 test that rammed a kill vehicle into an aging Chinese satellite; a 2014 test that demonstrated the same capability without creating a permanent minefield of space debris; and a 2013 test that sent an ASAT into what published reports describe as “ultra-high altitude ... three-times higher than the weapon tested in 2007 and 2014.”
China’s military is heeding the words of Gen. Xu Qiliang, vice-commander of China’s Central Military Commission, who observes, “If you control space, you can also control the land and the sea.”
Russia tested a new ASAT in 2015. In 2013 and 2014, the Russian military deployed a number of satellites capable of “rendezvous and proximity operations” – military parlance for maneuvering around other satellites in order to disrupt or disable them. Russia recently deployed 37 satellites in a single rocket launch. And to remove any doubt about how Russia intends to use its space assets, Moscow announced in 2015 that Russia’s “air forces, anti-air and anti-missile defenses, and space forces will now be under a unified command structure” known as the Aerospace Forces.
In short, Russia and China are posturing their militaries to defend their interests – and leverage their capabilities – in space.
When an earlier generation of Americans recognized the importance of the skies to U.S. interests – and recognized that airspace had become an avenue for hostile action and a theater of war – they created a stand-alone branch dedicated to air operations. It seems prudent to do the same today for space operations.
As George Washington counseled, “There is nothing so likely to produce peace as to be well prepared to meet an enemy.” That time-tested truth applies whether the enemy lurks on land, at sea, in the sky or in space.
The family of 12-year-old Walker Allen, a young man recovering from T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia and facing three years of chemotherapy treatments, was expecting a handful of motorcycles to show up at their house in Westville, Ind., on July 15.
They got a lot more than expected.
American Legion Riders from three different chapters teamed up with Guardian Riders of LaPorte County for what was close to a 50-motorcycle procession. Once at the Walker’s home, the Riders and others visited with Walker and his family, providing a much-needed boost to the young man.
“There was a charity ride coming up for Walker, and I had heard that he had been really low,” said Matt Hampton, second vice commander and Riders chapter director for Hanon Gray Post 83 in LaPorte, Ind. “So I just put the word out that we wanted to do something to cheer him up and let him know that the Riders were there for him.”
Hampton put together the ride in three days. Approximately 20 or so Legion Riders from Chapter 83 took part in the ride, which ended up at Walker’s house. The size of the motorcycle contingent was a surprise to the family.
“Walker’s mom told me she thought it would be two or three motorcycles,” Hampton said. “The family was ecstatic (when we arrived). You could see they were in tears. It was very emotional for them.”
Because Walker has to wear a mask over his mouth, Hampton said it was sometimes difficult to understand what he was saying, but “You could see he was smiling from ear to ear.”
The family’s reaction is what motivates Walker and the rest of Chapter 83’s Legion Riders to do what they do. “That’s the reward, seeing how it affected them,” he said. “That’s why we do what we do. Part of our mission is to take care of our community.”
During the visit, Hampton presented Walker with a Legion Riders necklace. “I told him that now that he has the necklace, it’s his job to try to be a good leader,” Hampton said.
What Chapter 83 did for the Walker family is in line with what it regularly does for its community. In addition to having a benefit ride scheduled for Aug. 6 for a young boy run over by a tractor, the chapter also donated 750 teddy bears to LaPorte County for children involved in car accidents.
Hampton said every Legion Riders efforts is a Legion family effort. “We’ve got Riders from the Auxiliary, from the Sons (of The American Legion) and from the Legion,” he said. “None of this works unless we all work together.
“It’s all about doing what you can for your community. And we need to work together as a family to do the best we can for our community.”
Eleven years ago a group of American Legion Riders from Post 737 in Lake Milton, Ohio, decided to work with other posts in their area to raise money for The American Legion Legacy Scholarship Fund.
The first year the group started with a donation of $995. On July 19, members of the same group presented American Legion National Adjutant Daniel S. Wheeler with a check for $10,714 for the fund.
Chapter 737 Legion Riders John Chittock, Ralph Oyster and John Wyllie rode more than 330 miles to make the presentation to Wheeler at American Legion National Headquarters in Indianapolis. In 11 years, $66,378 has been raised through Chapter 737’s efforts working with other Ohio Legion posts.
Each year, Riders from Chapter 737 have gone from post to post collecting donations for the Legacy Fund. Typically, 737’s Riders make a trip to Indianapolis to present the donations prior to the Legacy Run, but none were going to be able to go to Dodge City, Kan., this year for the start of the Run.
Chittock – who served as Post 737’s assistant chaplain, and chaplain for its Riders chapter and Sons of The American Legion squadron – said the fundraising idea came from the trial and error of others.
“I saw a lot of other posts trying some other things, and some didn’t work, so why not try this,” Chittock said. “We just stuck with it. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. We just took the ball and ran with it.”
The group also has racked up some mileage in the process. “We go out a month ahead of time and give (posts) a notice that we’re going to be coming and collecting,” Chittock said. “And then we come out the next month and we collect. It’s a three-phase, because when we get done we always give them a thank you letter. We personally deliver all this stuff. We put a lot of miles on.”
This year, donations came from Post 737, as well as Posts 76, 103, 112, 141, 166, 281, 331, 601, 700 and 719.
"What better program is there for these kids?” Chittock said, “And let me make this clear: It wouldn’t be possible without the generosity of the Legion family members from these posts that we collect from.”
The American Legion Legacy Scholarship Fund provides college money for the children of U.S. military personnel killed on active duty on or after Sept. 11, 2001, as well as to children of post-9/11 veterans with a combined VA disability rating of 50 percent or higher.
“I’m very appreciative of this (donation), as I know all of the recipients of the Legacy Scholarship Fund are,” Wheeler said. “This year we gave out $700,000. We really appreciate what you guys do, and we hope you continue to do it for many, many more years.”