All week, the 57 attendees of National Legion College have learned the importance of mentorship and taking their fellow Legionnaires under their wings. During Friday's graduation ceremony in Indianapolis, National Commander Michael D. Helm struck a similar tone.
Speaking to the graduates, who were selected by their departments to attend the Legion's annual leadership workshop, Helm stressed the need for the group to return home to their departments and home posts and "give back" to the Legionnaires there.
"Please, be generous with what you learned here," Helm said. "Share that knowledge with your posts, districts and departments. Yes, I am asking you to give to The American Legion. But I think you will find – as I have – that the more time that you spend around The American Legion, the more this great organization gives back to you. Because that’s what The American Legion does."
The graduates spent their week in Indianapolis at Legion National Headquarters learning how to write effective resolutions, participating in a mock department convetion and, perhaps most importantly, being taught how to serve as a mentor to their fellow Legionnaires.
Kim Mezger, who was there representing the Department of Indiana, says she took the mentorship message to heart.
"The best takeaway advice I received was to go home and find a small program or committee that is broken or has been neglected. Take it on, mend it, grow it," Mezger said. "Apply what you have learned this week. Make a difference on a small scale first."
That sentiment of working small-to-large is something that Helm endorsed. In his remarks before the graduates, he offered a reminder that there is a Legion post, Auxliary unit or Sons squadron in nearly every community in America - likening them to "points of light" that shine in these communities. He told the graduates it is now incumbent upon them to help those lights shine brighter by bringing home the lessons they've learned at Legion College.
"The American Legion is not just some building in downtown Indianapolis," Helm said. "We are not just active in Washington, we are active in your hometowns. We aren’t just fellow veterans, we are your neighbors. And even when we live in different geographic regions and have different departments on our caps – we are always your friends."
That message of giving back resonated with Mezger.
"What we have learned here is how to share with and teach Legionnaires, and future Legionnaires, about this organization that we love - at the post, district and department levels," she said.
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More than 20 service-disabled veteran small business owners and veteran business owners attended a free two-day class on drafting General Service Administration Schedule proposals (GSA Schedules), sponsored by the Legion and Vets GSA, LLC, at The American Legion's Washington, D.C., office, Oct. 28-29.
GSA Schedules, also known as Federal Supply Schedules, are long-term contracts that schedule indefinite delivery and indefinite quantity of items or services from private contractors to the federal government. GSA establishes long-term government-wide contracts with commercial companies to provide access to millions of commercial products and services at volume discount pricing.
The class provided veteran business owners instruction on preparing and submitting GSA Schedule proposals. Vets GSA provided templates, completed proposal examples and instructions that were tailored for each business.
The GSA Schedule is one of the most popular contract vehicles the government uses to purchase over $40,000,000 worth of goods and services from government contractors, said Scott Davidson, president of Vets GSA and member of the Legion’s Small Business Task Force. Davidson shared much of his knowledge and expertise in the subject while teaching the course.
“During this class I walked the owners through the entire process and provided them all of the required documentation to submit the proposal,” he said.
Attendees came from all corners of the country to participate and brought a sense of nostalgia to some, said Paula Gibb, who made the trip from California.
“As usual, when you go to a place where there are a lot of vets, people are really friendly,” she said. “I saw some old friends and some new friends. It was nice to see people I haven’t seen in years.”
Although the course was geared more toward businesses that are not already on the schedule, businesses that are currently on the schedule also found value in the course and benefitted from participating.
“We are already on the GSA schedule 70, but there is some new information we wanted to learn about,” Gibb said. “There is enough information out there that would allow you to go and do this on your own, but all of the ‘gotchas’ were distilled into the class. Over the course of the past two days, Scott was able to go through the entire process of getting on the schedule, and he told us the issues to really pay attention to in order to alleviate the problems of getting on the schedule.”
Davidson said he feels that entrepreneurial spirit is alive in most veterans. He says he believes they will continue to have a positive impact on the U.S. economy, and it is the duty of other businesses and organizations in the spirit of “we take care of our own” to ensure that veteran business owners have all of the tools and resources to succeed in business after they have sacrificed so much for this country.
"This kind of stuff helps the bottom line businesswise,” Gibb said. “People will always remember what the Legion has done to stay ahead of the curve and differentiate themselves.”
Thursday afternoon during National Legion College in Indianapolis, the class of 57 Legionnaires participated in a mock Nebraska department convention. During the convention, American Legion Library and Museum Director Trace Howard delivered the resolutions created by the five groups that the students were divided into. The students voted on whether they were in favor of passing the resolution.
Out of the five proposed resolutions, three passed and two were amended. The resolutions that were amended include:
Establish a student veteran outreach program. The resolution was amended due to the need for funding. The resolution stated for posts and districts to establish a Legion point of contact at all colleges and universities in Nebraska to build relationships with student veterans and to assist with their needs. With the amendment, the resolution now states $5,000 will be used for funding of a Legion point of contact.
Provide training and equipment to protect U.S. armed forces personnel from Ebola. With the amendment, the resolution now states for Congress to approve funding for protective equipment and training for situations involving infectious diseases, inlucuding Ebola.
The other resolutions that passed include:
Department of Nebraska should form a Transition Assistance Program committee.
Department of Nebraska should establish a veterans education and employment committee.
The Legion should urge the Department of Veterans Affairs to offer women-only transportation for women veterans suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder and/or military sexual trauma.
Following resolutions, several students delivered their group's homework assignment from Wednesday – creating a motto for next year's Legion College class. The mottos were: Leadership inspires trust; Sharing the knowledge for tomorrow; Leading through knowledge; and Each one, teach one. National Internal Affairs Commission Chairman Larry Besson will review the mottos tonight to select a winner.
Before the students left for the evening, a few Legion College mentors left them with lasting advice.
"When you leave here, don't go back to your departments and make demands to change things. Speak with your adjutant and don't just deliver problems – deliver solutions," said Mike Rohan of Wisconsin, a 2006 Legion College graduate.
Department of Texas Adjutant Bill West echoed Rohan's remarks.
"Ask your department leaders what you can do and how you can help," said West, a 2001 Legion College graduate. "Then the key is pass on that knowledge you gain; mentor others."
Both Rohan and West encouraged the students to not be afraid to serve on a department committee; to get involved with their department Legion College if there was one; and to start a mentoring class that meets at midwinter conference and department convention.
Tomorrow, The American Legion National College program will graduate its 2014 class of 57 Legionnaires representing 31 departments. The students will receive their Legion College diploma, lapel pin and coin, and have their photo taken with National Commander Mike Helm in the National Executive Committee room on the fourth floor of National Headquarters in Indianapolis.