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JSSP Legion team wins state championship, breaks scoring record

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Nine award ribbons were up for taking at the Indiana State Rifle and Pistol Association (ISRPA) ’s 3-Position Junior Postal Championships in Ft. Wayne, Ind., early last month. The Junior Shooting Sports Program of American Legion Post 173 in Versailles took home six of those ribbons.

But that’s not all.

Post 173’s youth participants secured their state championship title for the second year and broke their 2019 state scoring record by 61 points for a new state record of 2225.

“I tell the kids the reason you’re good is because we’re a team,” said Coach Jerry Hewitt, a life member of Post 173. “Assistant Coach Steve (Scoggins) and I could not be more proud of these young men and women.”

Post 173’s shooting sports program is fairly new – started in 2015 – yet, for the past two years they have won every air rifle championship in Indiana for the sporter class. “People can’t believe how well we’ve done in such a short amount of time,” Hewitt said. He credits support from community members and businesses that helped get the shooting sports program running, the parents and the program’s youth participants.

“We have such good support from our parents – they are our most valuable player,” Hewitt said.

The program’s nine youth marksmen all shoot in the sporter class for 3-position: prone, standing and kneeling. They practice on Monday’s inside the education building at the National Muzzle Loading Rifle Association in the nearby town Friendship.

As the air rifle program’s coaches, both Hewitt and Scoggins have experience in the field from their military service. Hewitt, a Vietnam War veteran, was on the U.S. Army’s brim grade rifle team. And Scoggins, a Post 173 life member, worked at a firing range during his time in the Marine Corps. Another big help and supporter of Post 173’s Junior Shooting Sports Program is Bill Jordan with ISRPA. Hewitt said Jordan has helped the young shooters with position and aim skills, and provided coaching knowledge to Hewitt and Scoggins. “He taught us and the kids the right way to do it. He is our secret sauce,” Hewitt said.

As Post 173’s air rifle team travels around the state to compete, the competitors are wearing gear with The American Legion and Post 173 shooting sports emblem on it. “People are starting to know where Versailles American Legion is now because of them,” Hewitt said. “I couldn’t ask for better kids.”


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Legion launches first podcast

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The American Legion has launched its first episode of the Tango Alpha Lima podcast.

The twice-monthly podcast features three post-9/11 veterans who discuss news, information and quirky stories of interest to the military community. American Legion staff member Mark Seavey joins Legionnaires Jeff Daly, a member of Hollywood Post 43, and Ashley Gorbulja-Maldonado, of Post 180 in Vienna, Va.

In the first episode, the co-hosts talk about Medal of Honor recipients, Seavey scorns a Purell pandemic profiteer and Gorbulja-Maldonado gives guidance on weathering the quarantine. You can listen to the podcast here and subscribe to it on iTunes, Stitcher and anywhere else you can download podcasts. Each episode will also have a video option to view available on the Legion’s YouTube channel.

The initiative is part of how the Legion is connecting with today’s younger veterans, Media and Communications Commission Chairman Walter Ivie said.

“I am thrilled that we were able to work through some challenges to produce the first of many engaging, informative and thoughtful podcasts,” Ivie said. “Gone are the days when our only media contact with members was the monthly magazine. Today’s media consumer demands information in various formats — social media, web, mobile, audio and video. With the Tango Alpha Lima podcast joining our other electronic media platforms, we are fulfilling that desire.”

 

 


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American Legion Family members continue to serve despite COVID-19

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As the coronavirus pandemic moved into California and Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a stay-at-home order for the state’s residents, American Legion Post 289 in Riverside was going to have to close down its normal operations. But for Post Commander “Irish” Mike Buchner, that didn’t mean the post was going to be completely closed for business.

Buchner assembled a team of American Legion Family members that included Robert Rodriguez, Steve "Captain America" Rodgers Jr., Monique Clemons, Steve "Fingers" Dodson, Kathy Strickland, Trina Contreras and Amber O’Brien to assist other veterans in the post.

Buchner said the group created a menu and prepared meals for lunch and dinner that were available to Post 289 members for either carryout or delivery. The team also is going grocery shopping for its members, as well as providing much-needed – but safe – socialization opportunities.

“Some members that are having a hard time coping with the isolation and/or PTSD are welcome to come to their post and have a meal or just to talk to someone,” Buchner said, noting that 95 percent of the post’s chairs have been removed in order to practice “safe social distancing.”

Buchner said Riverside Police Chief Larry Gonzalez and a city council member even visited the post on March 26 to check out what Post 289 was doing. “They were very pleased with (the) efforts and were quite impressed with (the) passion displayed to be there for their (Legion Family) members and have encouraged (the post) to keep up the great work,” Buchner said. “The police chief has offered to send donations (to the post) to help cover costs of goods.”

Buchner said the post also has contacted the Red Cross to organize a blood drive at the post, something that is being urged by American Legion National Commander Bill Oxford nationwide.

In Georgia, American Legion Sylvester Post 335 further showed how valuable it is to its community by assisting the Worth County School District and area churches in distributing breakfast and lunch items to local children.

“Many of the families in our area are in low income homes. Being out of school due to the (coronavirus) pandemic puts these children at risk of going hungry,” said Post 335 Commander Ray Humphrey, who also serves as Georgia’s 12th District commander. “During the week we help to distribute 1,000 meal packages a day.”

Humphrey said each meal package consisted of a bag lunch for that day, breakfast for the next day, and an assortment of milk, fresh fruit, fruit juice and snacks. On Fridays Post 335 also helps distribute an additional 250 backpack bags of healthy food items for the most at-need students to take home for the weekends.

“When all the students have been fed we hand-deliver any remaining food packages to the elderly veterans and at-risk members of our community,” Humphrey said. “We are partnered and working with great local churches and the leadership of a dedicated school system. Being an active member of our community, we were asked to help with this project. It remains our mission to continue to do so until this situation has passed.”

The following are a few more example of American Legion posts and Legion Family members delivering assistance in one way, shape or form to its members, veterans in the area and their communities.

California

• In South Gate, American Legion Post 335 is providing care packages to senior citizens sheltering at home. The care packages consist of a weekly supply of toilet paper, soap and food. South Gate city officials have set up a call center for seniors to use to request assistance. “We have close to almost 12,000 seniors in South Gate right now," Post 335 Vice Commander Robert Montalvo told ABC7. “Just from speaking to them the past week, the majority don't have anybody to help them out. They don't have family or friends. And they are very isolated in their homes and scared."

• Newport Harbor Post 291 is offering takeout food service via drive-thru from noon-6 p.m. daily. The goals of the program, Post 291 Commander Jon Reynolds said, are to provide affordable meals to the community, keep some Post 291 staff employed, and “serve a vital membership and community need.”

Indiana

American Legion Post 328 in Riley is offering a free drive-thru cookout on April 4 to members of the community. The post will served pulled pork and sides.

Iowa

After Iowa Boys State was cancelled, Montezuma American Legion Post 169 took the $500 it had set aside to sponsor two high school students in the program and donated it to a project created to battle the coronavirus pandemic. Michael DeJong was one of the students chosen to participate in Boys State; now he and his sister are creating face shield using a 3D printer and are donating them to University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics.

Kentucky

When a group of veterans staying at the Fort Thomas, Ky., Division of the Cincinnati VA Medical Center had to leave the facility in order to make room for COVID-19 patients, Elks Lodge 314 in nearby Florence, Ky., wanted to find a way to assist the veterans.

According to WCPO, Elks member Maddy Cummins reached out to American Legion Boone Post 4 in Florence. "In less than three days, we had $10,000," Cummins told WCPO.

The money was used to provide food to the veterans, who were able to relocate to Joseph House in Over-the-Rhine. Area restaurants pitched in to assist as well; enough money has been raised to provide meals until May.

Louisiana

When business shutdowns kept the vending machines at the Southeast Louisiana Veterans Home in Reserve, four American Legion posts pooled their resources to provide snacks and drinks for the home’s residents. The home reached out to American Legion Post 383 Commander Allan Reynaud in LaPlace, who then contacted Post 396 in Metairie, Post 377 in Kenner and Post 565 in Vacherie. All agreed to help, and the four posts combined to purchase 25 cases of soft drinks and a shopping cart full of snacks.

“These residents can’t see family right now. They can’t have visitors, and it makes it really tough for them,” Reynaud told L'Observateur. “These are the most vulnerable of our population because almost all of these people have underlying health issues. Just being able to make life a little more comfortable and a little brighter for them is more than worth the effort.”

Maryland

• In Ellicott City, Adams, Hanna, Moore Memorial Post 156 is working with the Howard County General Hospital and restaurants still operating in the area to deliver meals to the hospital staff. The post has volunteers lined up with appropriate vehicles to make deliveries to the hospitals from the various restaurants. Post 156 First Vice Commander Vance Blakely said once the protocols are worked out “we expect to hear soon that we can begin making deliveries of up to 900 meals per day.”

• In Dundalk, Md., Post 38 and its honor guard have offered to pick up and deliver groceries for veterans and spouses ages 65 and over, and disabled veterans or veterans with health problems in the area. The post will either pick up the groceries after the veteran has ordered them online, or actually shop for the veteran. The post and honor guard plan to offer the service until after the coronavirus pandemic is over.

Massachusetts

In Dover, George B. Preston Post 209 has launched a food drive to benefit local food agencies, including St. Thomas Church in Millis and the Norwood Food Pantry. The post is collecting non-perishable food items and toiletries, and the effort will go on “indefinitely,” organizer Lauren Dutton told Wicked Local. “There is always a need to help families that need it.”

Ohio

American Legion Paschall Post 164 in Grove City coordinated with M.A.S.H. Pantry and Resource Center of Central Ohio to distribute fresh produce to veterans in need. Post 164 Commander Jefferey Shipley identified members who were in need of fresh produce and arranged times for veterans to pick up or for produce to be delivered to their place of residence.

Pennsylvania

• In State College, American Legion Post 245 has been providing free hots meals for children in the area. Weekdays from 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. families have been pulling into the post parking lot to pick up lunches that include chicken tenders or grilled cheese, French fries and green beans. “I have two kids of my own… and it’s nice for us to be able to do this for everybody else that has the same thing going on,” Post 245 Legionnaire Katie Snyder said. “So we figured we’d step up and do the free kids meals.”

• In Wrightsville, American Legion Post 469 has been handing out free lunches on weekends, supported by local businesses. "This is what the American Legion does,” Post 469 member Joe Taney told Fox 43. “We contribute to the community. Everything we do is geared toward the community and the veterans, so that's what we're about and that's why we're doing this.”

South Carolina

American Legion Posts 156 (Swansea) Post 12 (St. Matthews), Post 101 (Pelion) and Post 4 (Orangeburg) teamed up with Winner’s Edge Worship Center to provide enough food donations to feed 48 families.

Wisconsin

• In Wausau, American Legion Post 10 and Bunkers at Tribute Golf Course have teamed up to deliver two-person meals to 50 veterans every Wednesday in the area. Veterans can request a meal by calling before 4 p.m. each Tuesday. Post 10 Legionnaire Thom Passow said the goal is to increase the number of meals in the future.

• In Sheboygan, the Camo Quilt Project – most of whom are American Legion Family members – has temporarily switched from making quilts for deployed servicemembers and veterans in nursing homes to making hospital masks.


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Your guide to starting and making Buddy Checks

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Executive Committee members of American Legion Post 826 in Woodland Hills, Calif., are reaching out to the post’s World War II and Korean veterans to check on their needs as they are homebound during the coronavirus pandemic. The phone calls by the committee members resulted in the need for grocery pickup, food donations and over the counter medication needs.

Leland Thompson American Legion Post 647 in Alameda, Calif., recently emailed – and mailed members without emails on file – the April issue of its newsletter. In his column, Post Commander Greg Owens addressed the temporary closures of businesses, restaurants and social establishments to help prevent the risk of catching and spreading the coronavirus. Even though Post 647 is part of these closures, Owens reminded members in his message that they are not alone and if a need arises – grocery shopping, prescription pickup, travel needs, etc. – a group of dedicated post members are available to help. “Our goal is to keep you healthy and see you through the ‘shelter in place’ request,” Owens wrote. His message concluded with a contact number to call for assistance.

Department of Oklahoma Commander Ronald L. Gott distributed to Legionnaires statewide a “Call Two Action” letter. He asked for members to call two people in their phone contact each day to check in, whether that’s family, friends or veterans. If they speak with a veteran, Gott asked them to say, “Thank you and your family for your service to our country. Is there anything The American Legion can do to help you?”

The time to check on the well-being of veterans is now with COVID-19 affecting everyone. That contact can be made through Buddy Checks, whether it’s a message in your newsletter, like Post 647, a phone call or a postcard via mail. Veterans may not always need food or other daily assistance; just hearing a voice on the phone or a written message of hope is a reminder that they are not forgotten.

Checking on veterans in your community, whether their membership is paid up, expired or they’re a potential new member, allows The American Legion to reach out to ensure basic needs are met. And these Buddy Checks are not about membership. Department of Alabama Adjutant Greg Akers said when his Post 216 members are making calls, that they do not discuss membership unless it is brought up and then they need to be prepared to answer. "This tactic is VITAL in this effort a Buddy Check is NOT a membership drive," he said.

Buddy Checks: How to get started

- Create a team to make the calls. Akers said four members from Post 216, including Post Commander Luther McAnally, are calling weekly on all active, expired and DMS members. Akers said one person can make about 70 calls in three to four hours depending on conversation lengths. “All of our members, expired or not, will hear from four different people in the post. This reinforces that the entire post cares about their well-being and not just one person,” Akers said.

- Access a list of current and former members at www.mylegion.org. One team member can save those names in a spreadsheet, or copy and paste into a Word file, and distribute among the team members via email.

- Make a list of local resources and phone numbers of services such as pharmacies with drive-thru windows, restaurants that are now providing order-ahead takeout and meal delivery vendors. Post 216 has its county service officer’s contacts and all emergency contacts for the VA available.

- Ask the veteran how they are doing and if they need anything. Post 216 callers ask anything from mowing the lawn to picking up groceries. On a spreadsheet identify those who may need a follow up or additional assistance.

- Leave contact information in case the call doesn’t get answered so you can be reached.

Download the Buddy Check guide

The new “How to Perform a Buddy Check During the Coronavirus Pandemic” is available to download here.


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'It's my way of letting them know I care'

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Minnesota Legionnaire had perhaps a somewhat unique perspective when the coronavirus pandemic started. And it’s that perspective that led to Havlick, a member of American Legion Post 109 in Two Harbors, Minn., to not only take on making Buddy Checks on fellow veterans, but expanding those efforts – both in terms of services and the forum for those Buddy Checks.

In addition to devising an Enhanced Buddy Checks program that includes setting up Legion Family Response Teams that both reach out to veterans and offer services such as grocery shopping and pickup, Havlick also started setting up nightly Zoom video conference meetings for Minnesota Legionnaires looking to talk with a fellow veteran.

The ideas came from background in disaster response, where Havlick said she learned to look at those persons most vulnerable or in the most danger. “Here in the Eighth District 51 percent of our Legionnaires are Vietnam War veterans or older. That puts us right in the demographic of ‘uh oh. What are we going to do?’ These are our (most vulnerable). Vietnam veterans have an assortment of illnesses that could not go well with this virus.”

Havlick lives in a town with a population of 3,900, of which 250-plus are members of Post 109. Havlick holds multiple positions at the Eighth District level, including membership director, and when the coronavirus pandemic started to accelerate, she began calling the posts in the district to see how they were doing “and encourage them to call their members and see how they are doing,” she said. “I thought who would be more well-equipped to know and deal with our veterans who can’t leave home? I thought that some of these guys or girls are going to get to a point where they can’t leave home. What should we do to make sure – especially if they don’t have family – that we’re taking care of them? We want to make sure they have food. (Doing) something as easy as going to the pharmacy picking up meds for them, just so they don’t have to come out in the middle of this.”

Havlick and a small group of Minnesota Legionnaires also started doing Facebook chats, but when Havlick wanted to expand the outreach someone in the group suggested using Zoom. A past district and department vice commander, and U.S. Army veteran, Havlick said there were eight Legionnaires taking part in the first Zoom chat and four the second night.

“I think it depends on what is on TV and what people are working on. That’s why I set it for every day at the same time … there’s always the next day to do it,” she said. “I told everybody ‘I’m going to be here at 7 o’clock CST until we get through this,’ just so people know they have somewhere to go and talk to people – even if it’s just me. It’s somebody out of your wheelhouse because you can’t go anywhere.”

Havlick also serves on the Department of Minnesota’s Strategic Planning Committee and hopes to work with the committee to fine-tune a process that would provide Buddy Checks and outreach to members in future emergency situations such as the current pandemic.

But Havlick said the COVID-19 outbreak hasn’t just brought about a need for Buddy Checks on veterans. “We need to help our active-duty (military), reservists and National Guard because … they’re being deployed,” she said. “Who’s going to take care of their families while they’re gone? That’s supposed to be our job.”

Havlick’s efforts in Minnesota are part of a nationwide effort by American Legion posts and individual Legionnaires to reach out to fellow veterans via Buddy Checks during this difficult time. The following a handful of examples of posts and individuals taking on this critical task.

And for those wishing to start Buddy Checks during the coronavirus pandemic, we’ve created a downloadable toolkit to assist those efforts.

California

• At Riverside Post 289, Post Commander “Irish” Mike Buchner is reaching out to members of the post to ensure they have whatever they need and offer support. Buchner said he’s also asking other members to “to pay it forward and contact five members once they have been contacted. Our elders are our most prized possession, and we will do all that we can to ensure they're safe and comfortable. No member should feel alone".

• In Woodland Hills, American Legion Post 826’s Executive Committee has formed a team to reach out to the post’s World War II and Korean War veterans. The aim is to check on needs of these older veterans during this COVID-19 driven stay-at-home period and provide services to those in need. The post is making a contact list using its electronic roster and contacting those veterans. Via Legiontown.org, Post Adjutant Larry Van Kuran said those making the phone calls are noting if a veteran is in need of help with grocery shopping, prescription pick-up and other amenities and food donations.

Illinois

In Springfield, Post 32 member and National Convention Commission Chairman Mike Walton used the media to get the word out about Buddy Checks. Walton’s press release appeared broadcast and print media outlets and stated the Post 32 would be conducting Buddy Checks on local veterans.

"As many of you know with PTSD and other problems, having to stay in and not have contact with others and the outside world could seriously affect the mental health of many of our brother and sister veterans,” wrote Walton, “so please, do as The American Legion is doing nationwide and call a veteran and make sure they are doing ok.”

Kansas

Fort Scott Thompson-Harkey Post 25 is “pushing” Buddy Checks during the coronavirus outbreak, Post 25 Commander Carl Jowers said. “Several post officers are reaching out to our members who do not use email and are checking on them.”

Maryland

Members of American Legion Post 156 in Ellicott City already were discussing Buddy Checks before the coronavirus pandemic took off and have turned their discussions into actions. Twelve members have volunteered to regularly stay in contact with the post’s 450-plus members during the state’s stay-at-home mandate. “We are a resource for our members should they have any needs arising during the coronavirus emergency,” Post 156 First Vice Commander Vance Blakely said. “We are also asking our members to provide a self-assessment in three categories: their physical, their mental and spiritual well-being. We want to know how our members are adjusting to the social isolation that many of them are experiencing. To alleviate that, we are encouraging them to also contact us if they simply need someone to talk with.”

Ohio

American Legion Paschall Post 164 in Grove City conducted a mass Buddy Check, contacting nearly 330 member through the efforts of Post Commander 164 Jefferey Shipley and his executive board. “(The) American Legion has a sacred responsibility to look out for and to support fellow veterans within their local communities” said Jermaine Ferguson, the Department of Ohio’s Veteran Affairs & Rehabilitation and National Security Coordinator. “Veterans who need assistance may not know where to go or who to ask, especially in times of crisis.”

Pennsylvania

Mark Eldridge, commander of Post 283 in Sayre, said by March 23 his post had distributed more than 24 essential items packs to its most at-risk members, encouraging those members to shelter. The post also was gearing up for phone wellness checks on its members.

South Carolina

District 20 Commander David Mills posted on Facebook that in between breaks of working outside, he came into the house and “called and checked on veterans and their families, most that are shut in and some that have been sick. They really get a kick being remembered and thought of. So remember this, you may be stuck home and bored, but there are … worse situations. A friendly call and well check make a big difference to those that think they are all alone. Take a moment and let them know they are not forgotten.”

Wisconsin

Virginia Russell, commander of Post 539 in Green Bay and the Brown County commander, is sending emails to the 72 post members with email addresses, sending cards to those members who are in nursing homes and are unable to be visited in person, and making calls to those without an email address. Russell also sends out birthday cards each month to members celebrating a birthday.

“I even have sent to those who have not renewed just to let them know they are in our thoughts and prayers,” Russell said. “I do this once a week. It's my way of letting them know I care about them.”


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