By: Steve B. Brooks
Dale Barnett knows first-hand the benefits American Legion programs can have on an individual. The Department of Georgia Legionnaire and leading candidate for American Legion 2015-2016 national commander first learned that when he participated in Boys State.
“I would not be standing here with you today if had not been for The American Legion,” Barnett told attendees at Day 2 of the National Membership Workshop on Aug. 8 in Indianapolis. “In 1969 I attended Hoosier Boys State. It changed my life. It was a period in our nation’s history where the Vietnam War was very much at its height. Military service, for a young person, was not the most popular of occupations.
But I saw the dedication, the selfless service, and also the opportunities and the doors that are open by this organization that allowed me to receive the nomination to the (U.S. Military Academy) and to pursue a military career. You have my full permission to share the story that The American Legion changes live – to include the life of the national commander.”
Barnett told members of the Legion’s membership team that, “You are the heart and the soul of this organization, and the success of this organization depends on how well you perform your duties and your responsibilities this next year. It should be very, very personal to each and every one of you.”
Barnett noted that the majority of the Legion family members in the room were wearing 2015-2016 membership team shirts. “For many of you, you put your name on there,” he said. “You put your name on something, it should be personal. It should mean something to you about your responsibilities to this great organization of The American Legion.”
Barnett stressed the need to build membership as a family. “The (Sons of The American Legion), the Legion Riders, the Auxiliary – we are in this together,” he said. “We need to push membership in all aspects because we are a team.”
Barnett also explained a new program he has planned if elected during the national convention: awareness walks for veterans. Several events already are planned across the country; each event is tailored to the locations and the capabilities of those participating.
“It’s about promoting what The American Legion does,” Barnett said. “We’ve gotten complacent. You have to be present and visible in the community. People aren’t aware of what you do. But if they see it, and you tell the story, you’re going to make them more aware, and they’re going to be more likely to join The American Legion family.
“Is it a membership walk? No. Will we get membership out of it? I hope so. I think so.”
Oregon National Executive Committeeman Charles Schmidt, a consultant to the National Legislative Commission, told the workshop that membership falls on the entire organization’s shoulders.
“I look at the meeting here in Indianapolis as a meeting of stakeholders: stakeholders in The American Legion,” Schmidt said. “If you don’t think you’re a stakeholder, look at your membership card. With these cards come a voice and a vote. But also with these cards comes a responsibility … to grow membership. Membership is everybody’s responsibility. “If we grow membership, we can (conduct) our programs. Our posts will thrive. That’s what the Four Pillars stand on – that post.”
A healthy Legion membership matters, Schmidt said. “Our voice needs to be strong because there are veterans everyday that need The American Legion,” he said. “There are communities every day that need The American Legion. And our country always needs The American Legion.”