Taking a page out of The American Legion’s efforts to “reconnect” with America’s military, the Department of Colorado has instituted a program that significantly increases the interaction between military members, military families and the nation’s largest veterans organization.
“Operation Soldier” is a program designed in 2009 to honor the families of those who serve in the Armed Forces of the United States. Components of the program include American Legion “family days” for those on military duty, military recruiters telling students about American Legion programs, military aptitude exams administered at Boys State and a close working relationship between Army recruiters and Colorado Legion family members.
“A portion of this program deals with honoring soldiers and their families with Certificates of Recognition and Blue Star Service Banners,” said Gar Williams, Past Department Commander of Colorado. “It’s a proven fact that TAPS (transition assistance) briefings don’t work. That’s because the kids are simply looking at the other side of the door and getting out of the service. This program works with them as they are coming in to the service.”
The genesis for the program is a Memorandum of Understanding signed by Past National Commander David K. Rehbein and the U.S. Army Recruiting Commander (USAREC). The MOU states that when it is within the capabilities of an individual post, The American Legion will assist the Army in qualifying future soldiers by mentoring and tutoring.
According to Williams, the document permits and encourages local Army recruiters to interact with The American Legion at the post, district and department levels, while providing local Legion posts access to military guest speakers, military displays at Legion events, new members and access to potential Legion, American Legion Auxiliary and Sons of the American Legion members.
“Army recruiters have a very hard job but the support we have been getting from The American Legion has been tremendous,” said Lt.Col. Bill Medina, commander of the U.S. Army Denver Recruiting Battalion. “The Army values the continuity of service from those who served before us to the soldiers of tomorrow. The Legion has been reaching out to the parents and family members of the young people who we recruit. Legionnaires are often influential members of the community and this helps us with our efforts.”
“This ties us into professional recruiters, who are doing this everyday. We have that military connection with them,” Williams said. “American Legion benefits and programs also give the recruiters something else to offer the community besides just asking them to join the service. It expands the knowledge of what the Legion is.”
The program not only benefits Army recruiting, but it is expected to pay dividends in Legion recruitment as well. “We just gotten it off the ground but my guesstimate is that it will produce 1,000 new Legionnaires a year in Colorado and it has the potential to provide a thousand new Auxiliary and Sons of the American Legion members as well. If we get all four branches of service involved, the recruiting potential is phenomenal.”