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USAA Tips: Funding a vacation

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Content provided courtesy of USAA | By J.J. Montanaro

Excitement and anxiety. As we map out our vacation plans for 2019 and beyond and there’s a curious mix of both. When you add in the financial dynamic, both emotions are understandable. However, with a little prep, hard work and discipline, you should be able to experience the excitement and leave the worry behind.

Vacations can be a bit tricky, though. Just when you think you’ve got it all covered – bam! – another expense hits you head on. That’s why I decided to break my tips into two distinct “financial phases” -- saving for and saving on your next vacation(s).

The “s” is intentional as if you’re like us, you may have more than one in the hopper. For example, I’ve been writing about our plans for a European river cruise for several years. This summer we’ll transition from savers to spenders and finally take the trip. That leads me to a few tips on saving for your upcoming vacation:

You don’t need a destination to get started. The point of saving for your vacation is to have the money necessary to take that vacation without having to hawk all your furniture, rent out the kids(?), or more likely use a credit card to make the trip. I’d encourage you to build a line item in your budget where you regularly and systematically set aside money specifically for vacations. We were directing money to a “vacation fund” well before we settled on a river cruise.

You do need a home. No, not the roof over your head, I’m talking about a place for your vacation savings. Consider setting up a separate savings account(s) for the money you do save. Unless you are saving for a vacation you are planning three plus years in the future, you should consider a plain-vanilla safe, stable and accessible savings account. Sure, shop for a good rate, but there’s no reason to invest and take on unnecessary risk when you should be saving.

It should be in your face. While we saved a bit each paycheck, our efforts really took off – we saved some big chunks when it was available – once we named our savings account “river cruise fund.” If you’ve got more than one vacation idea, set up multiple savings accounts and name them all. Naming the account makes it a tangible goal and a place where you will want to put money, not pull it. Photos, screen savers or other reminders can motivate you, too.

Go big, so you don’t have to go home. One of the coolest things (relative to funding a vacation, but well behind a lot of other life experiences) is to finish your vacation with money left over that you can roll to your next adventure. My point? Do a little research and set your savings goals properly and if you’re going to make an error, better to end up with too much than too little.

Next up, let’s shift our focus to saving on your next vacation. These are all-purpose tips to help ensure you end up in the enviable position of finishing your vacation with a surplus. These tips are designed to keep your trip fun even when being frugal.

Take advantage of trusted partners. Morale, Welfare & Recreation opportunities, Armed Forces Vacation Club, USAA’s Member Travel Privileges and Armed Forces Recreation Centers are examples of a few of the military and veteran-oriented resources you can tap into as you look for good value. If the situation is right, they can all help you save some serious dough. Of course, no matter where you’re shopping, make sure you always ask for a military discount.

Take advantage of on-the-fly opportunities. We have always been planners. So, the whole “save for” idea resonates with my wife and me. On the other hand, we have always been a bit envious of some of the deals friends have gotten by waiting until the last minute. They’ve taken last minute cruises, flown to $50 destinations and filled empty seats for a fraction of what we would have paid. If you can block the time and hold off on the destination, letting the best deal point the way, you may be able to do a lot more for less.

Enjoy the local cuisine. For many folks, eating out is already a huge expense and big money waster at home, so being cost-effective on vacation can be even tougher. But don’t let the bright lights of a new town throw you off your game. Instead, pack snacks for the theme park or other tourist destinations. When you do eat out, drink water and skip dessert. And remember, there’s nothing wrong with hitting the local grocery store and picking up the makings for some brown bag lunches.

Test the town. We all love to be entertained! But it can get expensive quickly. It’s imperative to do research in advance. Look online for coupons or military discounts for cheaper access, but read all the fine print. Is there something you want to do that doesn’t carry that big price tag? For example, a local museum may be a lot of fun (and free!) and, at the same time, give you another perspective on that locale! You can take that brown bag lunch to a local park and win on two fronts. You don’t need to fork out a lot of cash to enjoy your vacation.

Skip the souvenirs. Speaking of dishing out a lot of cash. From the $25 t-shirt (that might be worn twice more) to the soon-to-be broken key chain, save your money. Consider taking family photos or shooting a video record of the trip instead and encourage the kids or grandkids to write a daily journal. These types of keepsakes can truly capture the moment and last a lifetime.

Saving for and on your next vacation can result in an unforgettable getaway without leaving you in a financial bind.


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Veterans outreach taking place in Little Rock

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Department of Arkansas Legionnaires are conducting a district revitalization and veterans outreach effort March 22-23 in Little Rock. All wartime veterans in the area are invited to the event to learn more about American Legion programs and veteran benefits.

The effort will place from 8 a.m.-3:30 p.m. March 22 and 8:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. March 23 at the Arkansas American Legion Department Headquarters, 702 S. Victory St., Little Rock.

A veteran service officer will be available both days to assists veterans with Department of Veterans Affairs-related questions.


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Reistad salutes ‘heart and soul of The American Legion’

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While some may have wondered why The American Legion’s top leader chose to be in Charles Town, W. Va., during the 100th anniversary of the first meeting of his organization, National Commander Brett Reistad had a quick explanation.

“We could have had an elaborate ball in Washington, D.C., or perhaps a ritzy celebration in Paris, but that’s not what The America Legion is all about,” he said at a March 15 gala held at Post 71. “The heart and soul of The American Legion is found in our community posts. Places like West Virginia. Or Kansas. Our coasts. And, yes, our veterans communities overseas. Our work in Washington and internationally is of enormous importance. But 99 percent of our Legionnaires reside in communities such as this.”

It was a visit that was appreciated by the local American Legion.

“The chances of having the national commander here, on the day we officially turned 100, are one in a million,” said Don Chandler, a department vice commander of West Virginia who has been a member since 1970. “When you think of all of the people who belong to The American Legion and all of the places that the commander could be, it’s amazing that he chose historic Charles Town.”

Although chartered in January 1920, Jackson-Perks Post 71 began organizing in 1919. It was named in honor Wade H. Jackson and Joseph W. Perks, the first two county residents killed in World War I.

It was with fallen heroes such as Jackson and Perks in mind that Reistad acknowledged the history that The American Legion has in honoring military veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice.

“The American Legion honors fallen veterans as much as we serve the living,” Reistad said. “It was The American Legion that stood alongside the president of the United States during the dedication of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a dedication that probably would not have happened if not for the advocacy of founder Hamilton Fish, who also happened to be a powerful member of Congress.”

In addition to covering milestones of American Legion history, Reistad emphasized that The American Legion doesn’t only serve veterans but all Americans, especially young people. “The American Legion serves the youth of America with outstanding programs such as America Legion Baseball, Junior Shooting Sports, Boys State and Boys Nation,” he pointed out. “The American Legion has supported the Boy Scouts of America since 1919 and today sponsors 2,400 Scouting units comprising more than 63,000 young men and women.”

It is that dedication to youth that attracted perhaps the youngest Legionnaire at the birthday celebration. Donald Lambert, 22, is commander of Post 29 in Elkin, West Va., and a district adjutant. It was his local post that sponsored his Boy Scout unit. “That post then sent me to Boys State in 2013,” Lambert said. “As soon as I finished basic training in the Air Force, I joined.”

While Reistad is certainly glad to have Lambert’s membership and emphasizes the need for growth, he lamented the need for an American Legion. “World War I was so horrific, it was supposed to be the war to end all wars. Sadly, we all know it wasn’t. Now this wasn’t in any way a failure of our military veterans. It was a failure of world diplomacy,” he said before adding that the legacy of the last Legionnaires could have been continued by the Sons of the American Legion and American Legion Auxiliary.

“But war continued. And as long as America fights wars, both declared and undeclared, America will always need a strong American Legion,” Reistad said.

Of the Legion’s founders, Reistad said, “They surpassed all expectations. Legionnaires continue to do so today, with a vision for tomorrow. That vision will continue on because we will renew our dedication for and our membership in the greatest veterans organization that the world has ever seen. We will recruit new members and retain existing ones. We will check on our buddies and continue to advocate for a strong America.”


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Membership drive set for California counties

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Department of California Legionnaires are conducting a district revitalization and veterans outreach effort March 27-29 in Eldorado, Nevada and Placer counties. All wartime veterans in the area are invited to the event to learn more about American Legion programs and veteran benefits.

The effort will take place from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. March 27-28 and 9 a.m.-noon March 29 at Robert W. Townsend American Legion Post 84, Auburn Veterans Memorial Building, 100 East St., Auburn.

Veteran service officer information will be available to assist all area veterans with claims or other veteran benefit-related questions all three days.


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An Oregonian's place in the Legion's birth

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He was a beloved soldier, family man, Oregonian and visionary co-founder of The American Legion. And George A. White’s legacy infused a gathering of veterans, families and dignitaries who packed American Legion Post 10 in Albany, Ore., March 15 to mark the 100th birthday of the nation’s largest veterans service organization.

“He was there from the very beginning,” Oregon Alternate National Executive Committee member Andy Millar said. “He was a true Legionnaire.”

“I get choked up because of my dad,” added Steve Adams, first vice commander of the Department of Oregon, who began accompanying his father on visits to American Legion posts when he was 6 years old. “He made me promise to never forget World War I because that’s when The American Legion was born.”

The centennial celebration drew veterans from across the state. Their service spanned generations, from David Russell – who survived the sinking of USS Oklahoma during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor – to Don Weber and Rick Dominguez, whose long military careers included deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq, respectively. But the event that brought them together at Post 10 last week started when four American officers met in Paris in January 1919.

Lt. Col. Theodore Roosevelt Jr. had invited White, William Donovan – future founder of U.S. intelligences services – and engineer and architect Eric Fisher Wood to dinner to discuss low morale among American troops. The war-weary soldiers were apprehensive about returning home to an uncertain future after enduring brutal combat along the Western Front. At a meeting of 20 officers a month later, it was White who proposed a large gathering of American servicemembers to discuss these perplexing issues. As many as 1,000 American troops attended what became known as the Paris Caucus beginning on March 15, 1919, that formed The American Legion.

When Roosevelt and White first sat down in a restaurant in Paris in January that year to discuss launching an organization to represent U.S. veterans of the Great War, “the question was, ‘Who is going to take care of the boys when they all get home? Who is going to care about them and their jobs?’ Because at that juncture, there was no Veterans Administration,” American Legion Past National Commander Charles Schmidt said during the centennial celebration.

“And because there were some boys who would never go home, there were widows and orphans. So, who was going to take care of them? ... Little did they know when they first sought those answers it would be them. When Lt. Cols. Roosevelt Jr. and White sat down at dinner in January 1919, they had the same concerns about the needs of the veteran doughboys. We in Oregon can be proud that an Oregonian participated in the formation and development of our American Legion.”

White was a seasoned soldier by the time the United States entered the first world war. He served with the Utah artillery during the Spanish-American War, then joined the Oregon National Guard and led a cavalry unit during the Mexican expedition of 1916-1917. Oregon’s 3rd Regiment – which he commanded – was the first National Guard unit ready to go to the front when the United States entered World War I. White became one of Gen. John Pershing’s personal aides during the conflict and was at his side when the Armistice was signed Nov. 11, 1919, in France.

White was elected secretary of The American Legion’s first National Executive Committee, which met immediately after the Paris Caucus. He and another Oregonian, Robert Follet, were two of the first national vice commanders. Because of his journalism experience at the Salt Lake Tribune and Portland Oregonian, White also became the first editor of the American Legion Weekly magazine and published the first issue on July 4, 1919.

With The American Legion Weekly off to a good start, White returned to his post as adjutant general of the Oregon National Guard. “The American Legion has developed exactly along the lines of the original vision of a small group of men who met and planned the Paris Caucus,” White wrote in a column for The American Legion Weekly magazine in November 1920. “Their dream of a great soldier’s organization, moved by an impulse for continued service to America and held together by the ties of comradeship in the world’s greatest adventure, has come true.”

In addition to overseeing the Oregon National Guard and helping build the Legion, White wrote four novels, including a story about a foreign invasion called "Attack on America," that was published in 1939. He fell ill while training Oregon’s 41st Division and died of pneumonia Nov. 23, 1941, just two weeks before Pearl Harbor.

“The doctor told him, ‘You are going to die if you don’t get bed rest,’” said Pamela Pearson-Craig, White’s great-granddaughter. White refused, believing readying his troops was more important given the prospect that the United States was on the brink of another war. “But he died doing what he felt was most important for our nation.”

Thousands turned out in downtown Portland for White’s funeral procession, which included members of the 162nd and 186th infantry regiments, according to the Oregon Journal.

Pearson-Craig loved spending time with White’s widow, Henrietta, while she was growing up and heard story after story about her great grandfather’s impact. “It’s nothing short of amazing that he and other founding fathers had a great vision to fulfill a great need,” she said. “It is wonderful that, after all these years, The American Legion is still going strong. This would make him very happy – to know one of his many legacies lives on.”

The organization White help found has been a powerful advocate for veterans during the past century, National Adjutant Daniel S. Wheeler noted during his keynote address at the 100th anniversary celebration in Albany. “The American Legion fought for, and achieved a single Veterans Bureau in 1921 and then the Veterans Administration in 1930 to put all services for veterans under one arm of federal support,” Wheeler said. Before that, veterans in need of assistance were bounced from one government agency to another.

National American Legion conferences in 1923 and 1924 resulted in the first U.S. Flag Code. The American Legion subsequently drafted and fought for passage of the GI Bill in the face of fierce opposition from the Army, Navy, some members of Congress, and even some other veterans service organizations. Helping World War II veterans attend trade school or college had the added benefit of returning them to the job market gradually and spared the nation the daunting challenge of absorbing millions back into the U.S. workforce all at once.

The American Legion’s advocacy continued as the world entered the nuclear age. “Before The American Legion demanded accountability and justice for veterans exposed to atomic radiation, government support for service-connected toxic exposure simply did not exist,” Wheeler said. The Legion joined forces with Columbia University on a study that proved Agent Orange exposure was responsible for diseases afflicting Vietnam War veterans and their children.

In addition, American Legion studies dating back to the 1920s helped provide the evidence for making post-traumatic stress disorder a psychological diagnosis in 1980, Wheeler explained. Along the way, The American Legion and American Legion Auxiliary established and promoted landmark youth programs, including Boys Sate, Girls State, Oratorical Contest, American Legion Baseball and others. And today, more than 3,000 American Legion service officers are helping some 750,000 veterans with their VA benefits free of charge.

“As we look to the future, a second century of individual obligation to community, state and nation, that founding vision – which George A. White helped give us – is a timeless beacon to guide our way because America has always been made stronger by The American Legion and always will,” Wheeler said. “I often wonder what America would be today if not for the vision of our founders, like George A. White, and execution of that vision over the decades, by people like you, in your department, districts and posts. I can guarantee you it would be a different place, and our nation would not be nearly as strong as it is today.”


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Did you know?

The issuance or replacement of military service medals, awards and decorations must be requested in writing.

Requests should be submitted in writing to the appropriate military service branch division of the NPRC. Standard form (SF 180), available through the VA, is recommended to submit your request. Generally, there is no charge for medal or award replacements. For more information, or for the mailing address of the military branch office to submit your request to, call 1-86-NARA-NARA (1-866-272-6272) or visit the NPRC website at www.archives.gov