An event to remember!
C Pat Smith
WOW! What an event. I am talking about the 2009 Mid-Year
Conference held in Denver Jan 23-25, 2009. The annual Mid-Year Conference is an
event designed to look at where we are as an organization in the management of
our programs and make positive decisions about the next six months. The
importance of the conference is as much a motivation session as it is an
information flow. But this year the enthusiasm was over the top. Commander Gar
Williams put together a program that will be hard to top in future years. If
you have been reading the bulletin and the Observer you know that the American
Legion sponsored, in conjunction with the U S Army, a new soldier induction
ceremony. When we first started talking about the event it was to induct 30
brand new troops. The final number was over 170.
When you walked in the front door of the Radisson you were
immediately struck with the vision of an American Flag hanging from the fourth
floor of the hotel to the basement. What a magnificent picture. You knew
something special was going to happen. And it did.
On Friday evening the Army marched 170 young men and women,
ready to take the oath to defend our country in the uniform of the U S Army,
cascading down the stairs, six abreast, wearing Army Strong black T-shirts. At
the bottom of the stairs looking up at the atrium and the overflow crowd of
spectators and immediately below the bottom of that beautiful flag was the
inducting officer Lt General H Steven Blum from Nor-Com at Peterson AFB. Next
to him was City of Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper and General William Hudson
from the Air National Guard. U. S. Army banners and flag bunting hung from the
balconies up to the fifth floor and the audience hung over the balconies waving
American Flags. The American Legion John Philip Sousa Band provided the
patriotic music. Just prior to the induction Auxiliary Chaplain Renee
Fenton-Stone sang a rousing rendition of our National Anthem. What an impressive sight and sounds.
Also in the distinguished guest line was our own Past
National Commander Tom Bock and his wife Elaine and our NECman Ralph Bozella
and his wife Susie. A very special guest in the distinguished line was John
Toth of Arvada who had just received the Purple Heart from his wounds received
in Korea 58 years ago. Rounding out the distinguished guest line was Lt Col
William Medina and Sgt Maj. Atencio from the Army Recruiting Command and
Department Adjutant Charles Pat Smith.
Mayor Hickenlooper spoke to the new recruits and thanked
them for their commitment to serve their country. He was impressed by the
“theatre” atmosphere of the ceremony. Our Commander Gar Williams delivered a
well prepared, well delivered speech. Gar hit the nail on the head when he told
the troops The American Legion would be here for them and their families, now
and in the future. General Blum provided a short history lesson to the troops
about our freedoms and the price it takes to preserve them. He spoke of the
journey before them and how important their service was to our country. At the
end of his speech he formally inducted them into the Army with their oath to
“preserve and protect” our country and our freedom.
To say that the ceremony was impressive is an
understatement. You had to be there to catch the excitement and enthusiasm that
permeated the audience and the building.
If you wanted to be proud to be an American you needed to be there.
After the ceremony the new recruits and their families were
treated to a reception by the Army. The American Legion held its third annual
Program Expo put on by the “Queen of Expo’s,” Kristie Attarian. Our business
partners, Legionnaire Insurance Trust, Bellco Credit Union and Automotive
Avenues were on hand to explain the benefits of their programs. Our Legion
programs were highlighted to include Boys State, Jr Shooting and the Oratorical
contest. Jin Kong from our national organization greeted the new troops and
encouraged them to sign up for the Vet Cam program. Our membership committee
displayed all of the tools necessary fro a good membership recruiting effort.
The Auxiliary was on hand with their programs. It was an exciting and
productive evening from start to finish.
Saturday started with a breakfast hosted by the Boys State
Committee. It was an overflow crowd, probably because the breakfast was cheaper
than the hotel buffet breakfast. Saturday continued with an opening session of
the Legion, Auxiliary and SAL. We were treated to an inspirational and
motivational speech by a young Staff Sgt Joseph Caramillo from the Lakewood, CO
recruiting station. Sgt Caramillo took us through his time in Iraq from a
“boots on the ground” perspective and told of the bravery and commitment of the
troops under his command. He had the audience captured during his whole speech,
with his words being adsorbed by all. If you had any doubt about the bravery of
our young men and women in uniform, his speech dispelled those doubts. He has
promised The American Legion his full support in all of our efforts and there is
even a rumor he will be a counselor at Boys State this summer.
We also heard from a spokesman from American Military
Families and the work they do for the families of those deployed and those who
return in need of assistance. And rounding out the joint session in the morning
was a presentation from the Huey 091 Foundation and the status of the IBOT
wheel chair for spinal cord injured veterans.
The rest of the morning was dedicated to breakout sessions
of various committees and by all accounts they were very successful. Lunch was
hosted by the Past Commanders Club and they elected Rick Friend as their new
President for the coming year. After lunch all of the committees reported to
the delegates on their activities.
The banquet that evening was very special. Last year our
long time Public Relations Chairman Jefferson P Luginbuel passed away and the
banquet was dedicated in his honor. All of the annual Media awards were
re-named the “Jefferson P Luginbuel Media Awards.”
Loveland Post 15 nominated Channel 9 News Northern Bureau
and Adam Chodak and Gary Wolfe for the TV award and they were selected by the
committee to receive the award. Both Gary and Adam were present to receive the
Craig post 62 nominated radio station KRAI in Craig for the
Radio award and they were selected. Frank and Tammy Hanel, owners, accepted the
Salida Post 64 nominated The
Mountain Mail as the small market newspaper award and they were selected.
Editor/Publisher Merle Baranczyk accepted the award.
Loveland Post 15 nominated The Loveland Connection as the medium market newspaper award and
they were selected. Senior Editor Kelly King accepted the award.
Canon City Post 13 nominated Frieda Miller as “The Military
Mom of the Year,” a very special award for her commitment to our troops for the
last 18 years by providing comfort items and gift packages to troops while
deployed. Frieda was on hand to accept the award with her husband Jerry at her
Our Public Relations Chairman Darrell Myers, who took over
from Jeff, did an outstanding job making the presentations.
The banquet continued with another inspirational speech from
an outstanding veterans advocate, Mr. Artie Guerrero. Artie is a Vietnam Vet,
wheel chair bound and appeared on the podium with his lovely wife Cathie and
his faithful dog, Sierra. Artie talked about his travels from a gung-ho Vietnam
Veteran in country, to a disabled veteran to a veterans advocate. He has
literally traveled the world on behalf of veterans to include a trip back to
Vietnam. He is a frequent visitor to the State House testifying on veteran’s
bills. We were extremely lucky to have Artie in our presence and he left us
feeling renewed in our commitment to our country and our troops.
The banquet concluded with the entire audience holding hands
as Renee Fenton-Stone sang God Bless America. The conference concluded on
Sunday morning with a moving memorial service conducted by Chaplains Tony
McCrary and Renee Fenton-Stone.
Many of the pictures of the week end are available on our
web site at www.coloradolegion.org.
Check it out.
PS. For those of you reading this that did not attend
you must realize it is difficult to put into words the excitement that exists
at one of these events. Our membership has told us that they wanted something
different in our Conferences and Conventions and this certainly different. Our
convention this summer in Grand Junction will be just as exciting and just as
different. If you quit coming to our conventions because it was the same old
thing you will be surprised this year. Commander Gar appointed a special Ad-Hoc
Committee to make recommendations for changes and many of those changes will be
implemented this summer. There is much work to do in this organization. If you
are not involved, get involved.