By: Pat Smith, Department Adjutant
Our annual Mid-Year Conference concluded on a high note on Sunday January 27th in Colorado Springs. The memorial service conducted by the three chaplains of the American Legion, Tim Grabin, Evelyn Espinola of the Auxiliary and Rick Baldassari of the Sons of The American Legion on Sunday morning was inspirational and moving. Our three leaders, Commander Jim Gates, President Karen Boehler and SAL Commander Mike Kirschner then sent the delegates home with words of encouragement and commitment for the remainder of their leadership year. But before all of that was two days of outstanding meetings and fellowship.
It all started on Friday afternoon when the Legion and Auxiliary conducted their Executive Committee meetings. These meetings are designed to review the actions of the volunteers for the past six months and make any course corrections in policies and procedures for the next 6 months. By all accounts these meetings were very positive with excellent feedback from our Executive leaders.
After the meetings everyone flocked to the main ballroom where the U S Army Recruiting Commanded conducted their 5th annual troop induction ceremony hosted by The American Legion. This was phenomenal. It was the biggest yet. The Army had recruited 113 young men and women to take the oath. This was not a record number but the crowd was. We set the ballroom for 450 people and the hotel staff had to bring in more chairs and we still had spectators lining the walls. Who knew? All the audience had small American flags and when the troops were marched in for their induction the audience was standing waving the flag and the roar of approval was thunderous. If you did not have chills running up and down your spine you were a zombie. Patriotism was running rampant. Are you kidding me? Can you say “Love of Country?” Trust me it was there.
The troops took the oath from BG Darsie Rogers, Jr. He gave the new troops a taste of what to expect during their service to country. HOOAH. HOOAH, HOOAH. He made them repeat this until they got it right. Of course those of us who served in the Army had to help our new brothers and sister to make sure they passed the HOOAH test. Department Commander Jim Gates, an Air Force Veteran, and Past National Commander Tom Bock, Air Force also, encouraged the troops and committed The American Legion help as they serve their country. The 4th ID band from Fort Carson was there to provide the musical inspiration. The whole ceremony was videotaped and will be posted on line at the national organization TV channel. Our Commander Jim, President Karen and SAL Commander Mike did short video interviews that will also show up on u-tube and our web sites. The local TV stations were in the audience and the event made the evening news. What a great event. If you missed it, you missed a lot.
The American Legion definitely adds value to our community, state and nation and this was just one example of that value. The Army has committed again for next year so put January 24-26, 2014 in Longmont on your calendar.
As if we weren’t having enough fun the American Legion Auxiliary hosted their annual Family Fun Night later that evening. This event is a fund raising event for the Department President project, which this year is the Hyperbaric Oxygen Treatment Center (HBOT) in Louisville. SAL Commander Mike also chose the HBOT as his project so this was a joint event. Chris Harvey assembled Legion, Auxiliary and SAL members and proceeded to have fun. Games, auctions, food and music were in plentiful supply. The event was scheduled until 10 pm but word was that it lasted past midnight. Well past bedtime for some of us. Final accounting came in at just over $3,000 for the HBOT center, which will be presented at a future date to HBOT center by Karen and Mike.
Saturday morning we all met in a joint session. President Karen presented a video about the HBOT center and she passed the collection plate and raised $468.00. Rick Baum told the story about how HBOT is making significant changes in the lives of our TBI and PTSD veterans.
Girls State Director Katie Starcovich introduced two girl state delegates- Praxedes Quintana and Katharine Wilson to speak to the audience, one by video. Jay Bowen introduced Tal Arnold, a Boys Nation attendee to speak to the audience. Michelle Parks of the Walsenburg State Veterans Nursing Home spoke to the audience about some issues affecting our senior veterans. SAL Vice Commander Mike Deutser brought greetings on behalf of the national organization of the SAL. Leading Candidate for National Commander of the SAL for 2013-2014 Joseph Gladden, spoke to the audience about his vision for the future of the SAL. It was a great morning session.
Junior Auxiliary members, under the direction of President Ayana Espinola, packed 37 boxes of goods to send to American troops in Afghanistan. Auxiliary members from around the Department donated, at President Ayana’s request, personal care items, pillows, foodstuffs, and more tokens of love that were packed away and will be sent off. The five juniors present added a special dimension of caring to the work of the Auxiliary.
The Auxiliary, under the leadership of President Karen, invited everyone to participate in the blood drive all day Saturday. At the end of the day 22 of our Legion family rolled up their sleeves and gave generously.
The rest of the day Saturday was spent in reports and training sessions. Ralph Bozella conducted the Legislative session, Paul Talafuse conducted the Oratorical session, Jay Bowen conducted the Boys State session and Dean Casey conducted a Service Officer training session. All were well attended.
The highlight of the day was the Media Awards banquet on Saturday evening. It so happened that this date, January 26th, was the 50th wedding anniversary for our Commander Jim Gates and his lovely wife Judy. The table was decorated with anniversary banners, the two chairs that the Commander and Judy set in were adorned with white velvet coverings and valentine hearts were used as place mats for their place settings, all to commemorate the occasion. But the big surprise came when Department Adjutant announced that this year we were giving a special, Communicator of the Year Award, to a lucky member of the audience. That award went to Judy Gates for her 50 years of teaching Jim how to communicate with women. It must have worked, the results speak for themselves. Judy was absolutely stunned that she was the recipient. Commander Jim presented her a beautiful plaque to show his love and much kissing followed the presentation. It was a good thing they already had a room in the hotel. She also was presented with a dozen long stem yellow roses, her favorite color. They now proceed to “Area 51,” her words.
If that wasn’t enough the media awards followed. The awards banquet is named in honor of our Past Department Commander, NEC and Public Relations Chairman Jeff Luginbuel. Jeff left this life too soon, but we were honored to have his spouse Trudy as our special guest. Our current public relations chairman Darrell Myers proceeded with the presentation of the awards.
The first to be recognized was Sean Weller, a 2012 graduate of Colorado American Legion Boys State. Sean was given a check for $20,000 from Samsung as scholarship money for the college of his choice, Harvard. Sean won the scholarship for his essay about American and his vision for the future. Boys State Chairman Jay Bowen and Commander gates made the presentation to Sean.
Receiving the award as the outstanding radio station of the year was Colorado Public Radio. They produced a piece about returning young wounded veterans and their assimilation back into civilian life. They featured Dan Shannon, a severely wounded Iraq veteran and a graduate of the Eagles Summit Ranch in Westcliffe. Dan told about his struggles and how he found help and assistance from the American Legion. Colorado Public Radio could not be there for the presentation so it will be presented at a later date by Commander Gates.
Receiving the award for outstanding small market newspaper was the Wet Mountain Tribune. This paper covers the Custer county area and they feature many stories about veterans living in their county. They are an integral part of the community and keep the citizens well informed about the sacrifices made by our veterans. Receiving the award for Wet Mountain Tribune was reporter Nora Drenner.
The large market newspaper went to the Colorado Springs Gazette. The Gazette covers all of the active duty bases in the Colorado Springs area. They give constant coverage to the daily lives of our active duty troops and to the veteran’s organizations serving the community. Their articles do much to remind citizens that America is free because of our veterans. Receiving the award was reporter Tom Roeder.
The final award went to the TV station of the year, Fox 31 News in Denver, (KDVR) and to Jeremy Hubbard for his production of a series entitled “Home from War.” This ongoing series tells stories of the successes and failures of veterans as they serve their country and as they return to society. Jeremy and his crew spent some time in Afghanistan interviewing troops and recording their stories and those stories will run in the future. It is an excellent series and the station and Jeremy were recognized for the achievement. Jeremy brought his 9 month pregnant wife along to see him receive the award. This made a few of us a little nervous but it worked out. Jeremy brought along a camera crew and taped the presentation and it was shown on Monday with some kind words from Jeremy about the American Legion.
The banquet concluded with God Bless America led by Past Department President Karen Wessling. We all held hands and joined in. Goose bumps once again. As a final tribute, Buck Owens sang Together Again, one of Commander Jim’s theme songs for the year. What a great event.
Special thanks need to go to The Army, our volunteers who made this event a success and to the Department Legion and Auxiliary staff for their hard work. Thanks Elaine, Amy, Rhonda, Darrell and Tom for your time and effort
That brings us back to Sunday morning. We all packed up and went to our respective homes and communities recharged and encouraged to continue the work of this great organization. HOOAH!