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Veterans Benefits Information

Legion Baseball alum named to All-World squad

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American Legion Baseball alum Erik Kratz was named to the All-World Team by the World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) for his performance for Team USA in the recently completed Premier12 tournament in Tokyo.

Kratz – who played Legion Baseball for Sounderton Post 234, Pa., and currently plays for the Yankees – started seven of Team USA’s eight games, batting .381 with two home runs. He also helped Team USA’s pitching staff strike out 75 batters and post a 3.28 earned-run average during the team’s 4-4 showing.

Kratz was one of five Legion Baseball graduates on the team, joining Alec Bohm, Omaha Post 1 Swain Construction, Neb.; J.P. Feyereisen, River Falls Post 121, Wis.; Tanner Houck, Collinsville Post 365, Ill.; and Daulton Varsho, Marshfield Post 54, Wis.

Bohm, who currently plays for the Phillies hit .233 with a home run and four RBIs during the Premier 12. J.P. Feyereisen (Brewers) made two appearances in the tournament, striking out 2 in 1.2 innings, while Houck (Red Sox) was 0-2 with a 3.86 ERA, striking out 11 in 9.1 innings. And Varsho (Diamondbacks) scored two runs in four Premier 12 games.

Team USA finished the tournament in fourth place, one spot out of securing a berth in the 2020 Olympics. The team still can qualify for the games in Tokyo during WBSC Americas Olympic Qualifier in Arizona in March 2020.

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Legion Baseball alums up for HoF consideration

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Nine former big league players – including four American Legion Baseball alumni – and one executive comprise the 10-name Modern Baseball Era ballot to be reviewed and voted upon Dec. 8 at the Baseball Winter Meetings in San Diego

The Legion Baseball alums on the ballot are:

• Tommy John – Terre Haute (Ind.) Post 346. John pitched 26 seasons for the Indians, White Sox, Dodgers, Yankees, Angels and A’s, finishing his career after the 1989 season with a record of 288-231 and 3.34 ERA. His 700 career starts rank eighth on the all-time list and his 4,710.1 innings rank 20th all-time. A four-time All-Star Game selection – three of which came following his groundbreaking elbow surgery in 1974 – John won the 1976 Hutch Award and 1981 Lou Gehrig Memorial Award.

• Don Mattingly – Evansville (Ind.) Post 8. Mattingly played 14 seasons for the Yankees, batting .307 with 222 home runs and 2,153 hits. A six-time All-Star and nine-time Gold Glove Award winner at first base, Mattingly led the American League in total bases in both 1985 and 1986, won the 1984 AL batting title, captured three Silver Slugger Awards and was named the 1985 AL Most Valuable Player.

• Thurman Munson – Canton (Ohio) Post 44. Munson played for 11 seasons with the Yankees, winning the American League Rookie of the Year Award in 1970 and the American League Most Valuable Player Award in 1976. A seven-time All-Star and three-time Gold Glove Award winner, Munson is one of only two catchers in history with three consecutive seasons with at least a .300 batting average, 180 hits and 100 RBI.

• Dale Murphy – Portland, Ore. Murphy played 18 seasons with the Braves, Phillies and Rockies, winning back-to-back National League Most Valuable Player Awards in 1982 and 1983. A seven-time All-Star, Murphy won five Gold Glove Awards and four Silver Slugger Awards in center field. Murphy finished his career with 398 home runs and 1,266 RBI. Murphy helped his team to a third-place finish in the 1973 American Legion World Series.

The results of the Modern Baseball Era Committee vote will be announced live on MLB Network’s “MLB Tonight” at 8 p.m. ET on Sunday, Dec. 8. Any candidate who receives votes on 75 percent of the ballots cast by the 16-member Modern Baseball Era Committee will earn election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and will be inducted in Cooperstown on July 26, 2020, along with any electees who emerge from the 2020 Baseball Writers’ Association of America election, to be announced on Jan. 21, 2020.

The Modern Baseball Era is one of four Era Committees, each of which provide an avenue for Hall of Fame consideration to managers, umpires and executives, as well as players retired for more than 15 seasons.

The 10 Modern Baseball Era finalists were selected by the BBWAA-appointed Historical Overview Committee from all eligible candidates among managers, umpires, executives and players whose most significant career impact was realized during the time period from 1970 through 1987. Eligible candidates include: Players who played in at least 10 major league seasons and have been retired for 15 or more seasons; and managers, umpires and executives with 10 or more years in baseball. All active executives age 70 or older may have their careers reviewed as part of the Era Committee balloting process, regardless of the position they hold in an organization, and regardless of whether their body of work has been completed. All candidates must not be on Baseball’s Ineligible List.

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Spirit of Service recipient mentors young athletes

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Benjamin Forsberg is at home on the wrestling mat.

In a small converted former church in Rose Hill, Kan., Forsberg commands attention from his young proteges – about two dozen elementary and middle schoolers – who are soaking in the basics of wrestling during a recent practice.

Forsberg, a staff sergeant with the Kansas Air National Guard, does more than teach double-leg takedowns, sprawls and other moves. He instills confidence, discipline and teamwork.

“That’s the reason I coach — to see the kids grow personally as well as in the sport. It’s really cool to see that once this 9-year-old kid graduates high school, he’s going to be successful at whatever he does because of what his parents and this community has taught him. And to be a part of that is cool.”

For his volunteer efforts, Forsberg received The American Legion’s Spirit of Service Award at the 101st national convention this past August in Indianapolis.

“I was pretty shocked,” Forsberg recalled upon reading an email that he would receive the award. “It was unexpected but it was a great honor.”

He cherishes the experience at the convention in Indianapolis. “Everyone at The American Legion who saw me in uniform knew why I was there and shook my hand, gave me a look in the eye and thanked me for my service. It was really humbling to be around all of those veterans who were looking at me and thanking me for my service. It was awesome.”

Forsberg started his wrestling career at age 5 — “a little guy with a mullet.” Now he gives back to boys and girls interested in the sport. He has played an integral part in growing the South Central Punishers wrestling program from 26 to 140 participants in about five years. Two years ago, the Punishers won the state tournament, a vast improvement over their 133rd place just five years ago.

The core group is kindergarten through eighth-graders. After the high school season, those wrestlers join the program.

“I had some great coaches as a kid, who mentored me along because I wasn’t very good when I started out,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of struggles in life, battles that everybody has. I look back at my time wrestling and the way you have to approach the sport of wrestling in order to be successful is similar to how you have to approach life in order to get through hard times. More than teaching kids how to be great wresters, I want to teach them how to approach life.”

Former Punishers are now wrestling in college, including in Division I schools. Two Punishers are wrestling for Oklahoma State, which entered the season as the fourth-ranked team in the NCAA.

Forsberg, who joined the guard six years ago at age 24, loves his role as an intelligence analyst. He draws a correlation between what he learned on the mat to how he applies himself in service.

“I was in a leadership role on wrestling teams,” he recalled. “I had that work ethic from wrestling that gives me that blue-collar attitude.”

Kansas Air National Guard Lt. Col. James Bilby recruited Forsberg first to join the Guard and later to the Punishers.

“I saw Ben as a pretty serious and focused guy,” said Bilby, who has known Forsberg since 2012. “We thought it was a good fit for him and a good fit for the Guard. It can be a tough sell these days to get guys into service. He was intrigued by working in the intelligence mission and he has taken it and run with it ever since.”

Bilby, another Punishers coach, recognized the value that Forsberg would bring to the team.

“We wanted to bring him in to help us, but it has also helped him as well,” Bilby said. “He is very good at what he does. He is focused, he has the right demeanor and the kids respond to it.”

Bilby, who was Forsberg’s commander, nominated him for the Spirit of Service award.

“I look for guys who have that grit, that toughness, who have looked adversity in the eye,” Bilby said. “We got him into the military. He’s done some awesome work so we put him in for the award. He’s very active in our community. He does a lot of things with the kids. The pay isn’t very illustrious since it’s volunteer work. It’s just a way for him to give back to a sport that has given so much to him.”

Forsberg has no intention to stop his volunteer work.

“I will continue coaching wrestling until my wife tells me to stop or my hips fall off,” he said. “I love it. Any volunteer aspects of life are great because you get the reward but you also get to help other people. It’s cool to pass on that spirit to others to carry on down the line.”

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The great reversal

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The summer and early autumn of 2019 saw Iran attack two Japanese-owned cargo vessels operating in international waters near the Persian Gulf, seize a British-flagged oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz, and bomb Saudi Arabia’s largest oil refinery. The refinery attacks temporarily reduced Saudi oil production by 5.7 million barrels a day – half of Saudi Arabia’s output. Yet through it all, the oil and energy markets didn’t even flinch. In fact, the price of oil per barrel actually fell after Iran’s season of reckless temper tantrums. Why is that? After all, far smaller shocks and threats to Middle East energy supplies have, in the recent past, triggered massive spikes in the price of oil – and forced Washington to provide protection to foreign vessels, issue new security doctrines, even launch military operations. But none of that happened in 2019.

Reserves The main reason global energy markets responded to Iranian recklessness with a collective shrug, while the United States held its fire and kept its cool, has more to do with what’s happening in America than what’s happening in the Persian Gulf.

After decades of leaving its vast energy resources untapped – and leaving itself at the mercy of Middle East oil supplies – the United States has vaulted to first in the world in total oil production, first in natural gas production, and second in primary energy production.

The United States produces about 18 million barrels of oil per day – equaling 18 percent of total production. To put that number in perspective, second place Saudi Arabia and third place Russia account for 23 percent of total production – combined. “The U.S. holds more oil reserves than Saudi Arabia and Russia, the first time it has surpassed those held by the world’s biggest exporting nations,” the Financial Times reports, citing a new study by Rystad Energy. The Oslo-based consulting firm estimates U.S. reserves at 264 billion barrels, Russia’s at 256 billion and Saudi Arabia’s at 212 billion. For more perspective: in 2008, the United States produced half the amount of oil it produces today.

That’s good news, and the better news is that U.S. industry is continuing to find and tap into vast new reserves:

• In late 2018, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) reported that reserves in the Permian Basin in Texas and New Mexico contain 46 billion barrels of oil, 280 trillion cubic feet of gas, and 20 billion barrels of natural-gas liquids.

• USGS estimates that the Arctic holds some 90 billion barrels of oil. About one-third of that oil is in Alaskan territory.

• Another USGS study concludes that North Dakota and Montana contain between 3 billion and 4.3 billion barrels of recoverable oil.

• The Interior Department estimates the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf contains 90 billion barrels of recoverable oil and 327 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

In addition, the United States sits atop an ocean of oil-shale and oil-sands deposits. Oil-shale is a rock that can be converted into oil when heated. Oil-sands are a mixture of oil, sand and clay that when injected with hot water yield bitumen, and ultimately synthetic oil.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports that oil-shale deposits in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming “contain up to 3 trillion barrels of oil, half of which may be recoverable.” That’s trillion with a “T.” Once thought to be too expensive to extract or too technologically difficult to convert, this vast oil-shale field right in the middle of the country “presents significant opportunities for the United States,” in the GAO’s understated words. As RAND’s James Bartis has observed, “We’ve got more oil in this very compact area than the entire Middle East.”

As for the oil-sands deposits, Utah alone holds between 12 billion barrels and 19 billion barrels.

Nor should we overlook the petroleum endowment of allies in this hemisphere. Canada produces 5.3 million barrels per day, Brazil 3.4 produces million barrels per day, and Mexico produces 2 million barrels per day.

All the while, Saudi officials privately worry that the kingdom’s reserves may be overstated by 40 percent.

Reversal In short, we are witnessing a dramatic reversal and reordering in geopolitics.

The United States officially became a net exporter of oil in December 2018, as Bloomberg News reports. And the International Energy Agency projects that the United States will be energy self-sufficient by 2035.

“We are becoming the dominant energy power in the world,” Michael Lynch, president of Strategic Energy & Economic Research, told Bloomberg News.

How and why did this U.S. energy renaissance happen? For some time, America had the resources and reserves to dominate global energy markets. But it wasn’t until recently that it summoned the will to do so.

America’s “new” oil and gas deposits were always there, of course. But as the price of oil increased, the cost of exploring, extracting and converting less-conventional and less-accessible sources of hydrocarbon energy started to make economic sense for developers. That led to increased oil production during the Obama administration.

However, production and exploration really took off after President Trump rolled back a dozen drilling/extraction regulations and allowed expanded drilling on federally controlled lands. In FY2018, for example, the Trump administration’s drilling-permit approvals on federal lands were “triple the average offered during President Barack Obama’s second term,” according to a New York Times analysis.

That same year, the Interior Department began auctioning off leases for oil and natural gas exploration in some 77 million acres of federal waters, most of them located off the Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas coasts. As the Heartland Institute reports, this represents “the largest oil and gas lease sale in U.S. history.”

Preview Speaking of history, Trump notes, “For over 40 years, America was vulnerable to foreign regimes that used energy as an economic weapon.” Indeed, the economic, military and human costs associated with maintaining the energy status quo have been enormous for the United States. Dependence on Middle Eastern oil has forced the United States to defend regimes that flout American values (Saudi Arabia and Kuwait), to avoid directly challenging enemies (Iran), and to wage war (Iraq).

However, as I observed in 2013, America’s vast energy resources provide it the tools and opportunity to upend that costly status quo: “America need not be held hostage by the vagaries of this global market – or the whims of petrocrats, speculators and jihadists ... An extra 11 million barrels per day produced in the Americas would send a signal to the global oil market, enable the law of supply and demand to bring prices down, and deprive those regimes of revenue and power ... The goal of building a thriving energy sector should not be autarky and isolation, but rather independence and security from undependable suppliers.”

The president wants more than energy independence, however. His goal is “American energy dominance.”

What’s happening – and not happening – in the Middle East today serves as a preview of what that means for America and the world in the years to come.

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New Texas post builds community, camaraderie

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In just a few years, American Legion Post 100 in Royse City, Texas, has integrated itself as a major player in its community, about 50 miles east of Dallas.

“It’s about us giving back. We love Royse City and Royse City loves us,” founding post Commander Jason Castleberry said, noting that the post does not have a building. “We have to be out in the community so they know we exist. The great thing about our post is that our members aren’t joining because they need a place to hang out. They are joining to make a difference, to work a program, to do Boys State, to be in the Riders group. They all have that same sense of purpose that I have. It’s refreshing to see.”

A recent Saturday, Nov. 16, was indicative of the community service provided by Post 100 members, including Castleberry. That evening post members led the community’s Veterans Day celebration.

Castleberry served as the emcee while the post chaplain led the community in a prayer. The Military Heritage Collection of North Texas, a museum in the adjacent town of Nevada, brought out military vehicles for kids to explore. Food trucks fed attendees, two bands played for the crowd and post members engaged kids with other fun activities such as comic books.

Earlier in the day, Post 100 members delivered turkeys and side dishes to a church for distribution this Thanksgiving to needy families. Castleberry noted that it is not only important to do projects under the Four Pillars but to share those with the community.

“You can do all these great programs and help many people but if you are not letting people know, it’s just going to stay within you,” he said. “Every time I get the opportunity to tell people about The American Legion, I take that opportunity. I want them to know what The American Legion is all about. We’re not your old-school Legion. We’re a young vibrant organization that is working to change people’s lives.”

That approach was the selling point for Shawn Masters, the post’s judge advocate. Masters had belonged to another veterans service organization during his time in the Army.

“Upon exiting the military, I was looking for an organization that I could volunteer with because it’s what my family does,” said Masters, a post 9/11 veteran who was post commander last year. “When Jason approached me about it, he told me they don’t have a building, or have a bar. We’re all about programs. We’re all about community. We’re all about veterans. That’s what inspired me to jump on board with Post 100.”

Masters enjoys working on children and youth activities. Post 100 sent five participants to Boys State earlier this year.

“Boys State is a very huge deal for me because we can inspire the next generation of youth to be our leaders,” he said. “I have three kids myself and getting them ready for the world is something that is very important to me and dear to my heart.”

It was three years ago at the Royse City Veterans Day event when Castleberry and others launched an effort to create a post. On that day, they signed up enough veterans to start the process of receiving their charter.

And Post 100 hasn’t stopped growing – or serving its community – since.

“It just snowballed from there,” Castleberry said, adding that the post hit 67 members in two years and is approaching 95 members now. “It’s been a blessing. We have been able to make a big difference.”

In the 1920s, a post was chartered in Royse City but was deactivated in 1942.

“For 75 years there was no veterans service organization in this community to support veterans until we came along,” Castleberry said. “It’s been a big deal to help the veterans, community and children, as The American Legion does.”

Launching Post 100 was part of an initiative by then Department of Texas Commander Walter Ivie who encouraged districts to look for gaps and fill them. As the state’s population continues to sprawl outward from big cities, there are opportunities to create new posts to serve those populations.

“Texas is a huge state so being able to start these posts is really what is going to be able to take our membership to the next level,” Ivie said. A lot of these posts that have been around for 100 years are going to stay where they are with their membership. But for these posts in areas where the population is growing, it’s going to bring in 100, 200 members really quickly. These new posts are really growing.”

For Royse City residents like Masters, Post 100 fills a significant role.

“Before we established the post, there really wasn’t a veteran impact in our community,” he explained. “There wasn’t a presence. When we established the post everything moved out front. When something is going on in Royse City, we’re either there supporting it, or running it.”

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Did you know?

Military Funeral Honors ceremonies must be scheduled in advance.

The law requires that every eligible veteran receive a military funeral honors ceremony, which includes the folding and presentation of the United States flag and the playing of “taps,” upon the family’s request. This Department of Defense program calls for the funeral director to request military funeral honors on behalf of the veteran’s family.