Legion chief rallies the vetsOACOMA — American Legion National Commander Jimmie Foster sounded an upbeat tone Friday when he addressed a banquet attended by more than 200 state American Legion members and their spouses at the South Dakota American Legion Convention at Cedar Shore Resort.
By: Ross Dolan, The Daily Republic
OACOMA — American Legion National Commander Jimmie Foster sounded an upbeat tone Friday when he addressed a banquet attended by more than 200 state American Legion members and their spouses at the South Dakota American Legion Convention at Cedar Shore Resort.
The event, which runs through Sunday, is officially the 93rd annual state convention, which also includes the American Legion Auxiliary and Sons of the American Legion.
Foster, of Anchorage, Alaska, said “it’s a privilege to finally get to South Dakota.” Foster is off to North Dakota today for a similar visit.
The Legion, Foster said, is needed as much today as it was when it was founded in 1919 to help the thousands of veterans returning home after World War I.
Today’s American service personnel are deployed in 133 countries and they need support, he said. “Never have we been stretched like we have today,” he said, noting that one friend in the service had been deployed 11 times. “Never have the National Guard and our reserves been used the way they are today.”
He said South Dakota’s elected officials voted to involve service personnel in multiple wars, and “they need to continue to provide money for beans, bullets and equipment and whatever it takes to get them back home.”
Foster, a department service officer on a year’s leave from the Anchorage Veterans Affairs Office, said government bureaucracy and red tape is slowing down benefits justly earned by soldiers.
“If you acquired a service connected injury, illness or disease while you were on active duty, my personal opinion is that the government has to take care of you until you die — or the government goes broke — whichever comes first.”
He urged veterans to hallow days like Veterans Day. To those who treat the day as another Monday off, he chided, “If that’s you, shame on you.”
“Do something,” he said. “Celebrate the holidays for what they really mean.”
Foster said no organization tops the Legion when it comes to support of youth programs, whether it be for sports, scouting or academic programs.
He also said that programs like the American Legion Legacy Scholarships assure that the children of service personnel who were killed in the war on terror will get a college education. He said $4 million will go toward scholarships this year.
He also urged older veterans to “reconnect” with today’s servicemen and to embrace technology, even if it feels personally uncomfortable.
Foster challenged American Legion vets and their families to extend themselves in the support of troops by seeing them off on deployments and welcoming them home, regardless of the hour, and by doing small errands and tasks for older vets who can no longer do for themselves.
He encouraged Legion posts to welcome returning women warriors — who make up 20 percent of service personnel — and minorities who comprise 29 percent of the armed forces. “I ask that you do not discriminate against any veteran due to race, sex, color or creed. A veteran is a veteran, and if they’re eligible we need them in the American Legion.”
Under Foster’s leadership, Alaska was No. 1 in the drive for building Legion membership, and he congratulated South Dakota for ranking 12th in the nation.
“You’re doing a great job,” he said.
He urged older veterans to mentor younger vets in leadership.
“A couple of old guys took a chance on me,” he said. “And now look at the hat I’m wearing.”