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COVID-19 not stopping Legion posts from checking up, helping out

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Lester Blackwell American Legion Post 138 in Roxboro, N.C., has made Buddy Checks a regular part of the post’s activities. Friday’s are typically reserved for visiting area veterans at their homes and assisted-living facilities. But the need for those checks has grown since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s really important to find out if they have any needs, how they’re doing,” Post 138 Chaplain Chris Talley said. “They’ve always been important, but it feels a bit more important now.”

Last Friday Talley joined Post 138 Commander Tim Carter, Sergeant-at-Arms Ronnie Jeffreys and Legionnaire Bruce Diggs in a Buddy Check on Stephen Morrow, a widower and Vietnam-era veteran. Morrow lost his wife five years ago and “has been pretty discouraged since his wife passed,” Talley said. “When we started visiting him, he started becoming more encouraged and really appreciated the time that we spent with him.”

The Buddy Check also included replacing Morrow’s worn American flag with a new one. The old flag will be retired by Post 138 at a future ceremony.

Though Talley said performing in-person Buddy Checks are more challenging because of social distancing, “we’ve all been trying to make calls to check on a lot of our veterans and keep up with them.” Talley said the post also is planning a Facebook Live event to offer words of encouragement to its members.

In Maryland, Joseph L Davis Post 47 American Legion in Havre de Grace has been taking advantage of social media as a way to reach out to its members. One recent graphic, “Because We Care About YOU,” urges any members needing assistance to call the post, including providing transportation to medical appointments or doing grocery shopping.

Post 47 also has set up a food pantry that is open to everyone in its community. The pantry features non-perishable items and is set up as a self-service drive-thru. Donations have helped keep the pantry fully stocked.

Other American Legion posts are stepping up around the nation to ensure their fellow veterans are not forgotten during this difficult time. And some posts are making community support a priority, assisting with meals and collecting important supplies for local families.

The following are just a few examples of what members of the American Legion Family are doing to help others.

California

• In addition to hosting a much-needed blood drive, around a dozen members of Hollywood Post 43 have volunteered to reach out to elderly members via phone to ensure they have access to groceries, meals, essential needs and are being cared for. The post is making safe deliveries of groceries and toiletries to its at-risk members.

• American Legion Post 397 in Monterey Park has been helping the elderly, disabled and veterans in the community for more than 10 years through collecting essential donations. The post is continuing to do so during the coronavirus pandemic, collecting items for older veterans unable to leave their homes. All precautions are being made for those veterans not wanting to be exposed to the virus. “It's important to realize that it's not just us, it's not just our community, not just our post,” Post 397 Commander Gabriel Suarez told ABC7. “It's happening all over the world. If you poke us, we all bleed the same.”

Germany

Darren Dahlke, membership chairman for Post 6 in Stuttgart, reached out on Facebook to his fellow Legionnaires, posting a message from Post 6 Commander Marcus Briscoe that said “Our most sacred responsibility is to look out for each other and our fellow veterans. As a way to reach out to members and former members I am sending out this message asking if we can check up on our fellow comrades. Please take the time to reach out to our fellow comrade. Let it be just one email or a phone call. Reaching out, just to say 'Hello' can make the difference.”

Kentucky

In Bowling Green, American Legion Post 23 teamed up with the Good Deeds Club to set up a drive-thru restaurant at the post. They provided free sausage biscuits, coffee, doughnuts and toilet paper to the first 200 drivers on Tuesday and planned a similar effort for March 26.

Maine

American Legion Post 202 in Topsham has been conducting Buddy Checks and also put out a message on Facebook urging any members in need of support to contact the post via phone call. Post officers are at the post daily to answer calls and check messages.

Maryland

Rosedale Post 180 has begun contacting all of its members, and those who don’t have a phone number or email listed will receive a postcard. “The Buddy Check is a very important part of who we are and why we are here,” said Past Post Commander Eric Warthen Sr., a member of Maryland’s Department Executive Committee. “Simply because someone pays their dues but doesn't come to the lounge or to an event does not mean that they are not worth our time, so reach out and let them know you care.”

Minnesota

National American Legion College graduate Jennifer Gedney Havlick took to Facebook with a plan to conduct enhanced Buddy Checks. Havlick’s suggestions include organizing response teams with captains, daily morale calls and shopping for those who are self-quarantined.

Nebraska

American Legion Post 331 has been sending out postcards to its members to let them know they are not alone. “If you or a family member needs groceries, medications picked up, or transportation to a doctor’s appointment, please call your Post 331,” the postcard reads. Dave Sherwood, an 84-year-old member of Post 331, has even volunteered to assist other members.

New Jersey

Weehawken American Legion Post 18 is accepting canned goods and other non-perishables in order to support its elderly and needy veterans. Post 18 also has been calling its members regularly and bringing them their medications and canned goods.

New York

American Legion Continental Post 1424 in Forest Hills is serving as both a collection site and a meeting point for volunteers who want to pick up supplies to deliver to community members who can't leave home.

Oregon

In Albany, American Legion Post 10 teamed up with Southpaw’s Pizza to provided meals for staff and veterans at the Edward C. Allworth Veterans' Home in Lebanon, where one veteran had died and 15 others diagnosed with COVID-19. In addition to Southpaw’s Pizza helping feed volunteers and staff at the home for two days, American Legion Post 10’s Legion Family prepared a full turkey dinner with all of the trimmings. Post 10 Commander David Solomon told the Lebanon Express that the post will continue to support the veterans’ home as long as is necessary. “The veterans and the staff, they deserve only the best,” Solomon said. “As long as they need us, we’re going to be there.”

South Carolina

At the suggestion of the post’s chef and activities director, Mike Fowler, American Legion Post 28 in Spartanburg set up a food pantry to assist those who have lost their jobs because their businesses were shut down. The post is stocked with canned and dry goods for every meal of the day, as well as board games, coloring books and other items for children. “You don’t have to be associated with The American Legion. You don’t have to be a veteran. You don’t need any documentation, you don’t need ID. You just have the need. If you have a need, we’ll feed you,” Fowler told GoUpstate.com.

Texas

American Legion Business & Professional Post 10 in San Antonio put out a call on Twitter, challenging American Legion Family members to “reach out to 5 others today. Let them know you’re thinking about them. Ask them if they need anything. Be there for them.”

Virginia

Post 177 in Fairfax was contacted by the Fairfax County Health Department, whose offices are about a block away from the post, to ask if the department’s workers could use 25 parking spaces at the post since the department had invoked the Emergency Response Protocol and was adding employees. Post 177 isn’t charging the department to park at the post and also has contacted city, county and state officials to let them know the post and its facility are available to assist during the pandemic.

Washington

Department of Washington leadership has called on its members to activate Buddy Checks. On behalf of Department Commander Robert Clark, Department Membership Committee Chairman Rafael A. Munoz-Cintron asked department Legionnaires to “not reach out only those that you may think their health might be at a concern at this time, but all of our members. There are others that may be in economic hardship and might be afraid to ask for help! A simple bag of groceries or snacks might make a difference in a family's life!”


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V.A. Criticized for Effort to Keep Some Veterans Away From Private Care During Outbreak

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By Wednesday morning, the White House sought to correct the impression that the department was putting a pause on the Mission Act.

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Girls State inspires military, public service for Legionnaire Blair Milo

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Blair Milo’s path to military and public service was inspired by her participation in American Legion Auxiliary Hoosier Girls State. Milo had never thought about military service prior to that point; her car ride home from Girls State changed that.

Born and raised in La Porte, Ind., Milo earned her bachelor's degree from Purdue University in Lafayette and was commissioned into the U.S. Navy in 2004. She served from 2005-2017, completing two Persian Gulf deployments that included serving as the anti-submarine warfare officer and electrical officer on the USS Mason, then transferred to the Destroyer Squadron 50 staff in Manama, Bahrain. After deployment in Bahrain and Iraq, Milo served on the Chief of Naval Operations staff at the Pentagon, where she worked on the Navy’s newest stealth destroyer ship class DDG-1000.

After transitioning from active duty to the reserves in 2010, Milo moved back to her hometown and found another way to continue her passion for service.

She joined Hamon Gray American Legion Post 83 and was elected mayor of La Porte – an election she won twice in 2011 and 2015 – which made her the youngest female mayor in the state at 28 years old. Now, 37, Milo serves as the State of Indiana’s first Secretary for Career Connections and Talent. She was appointed the position in 2017 by Gov. Eric Holcomb, where she is working to “attract, develop and connect a 21st century workforce.”

Milo’s passion for public service earned her the 2017 American Legion Department of Indiana Military Person of the Year (reserve category), and a spotlight in the Indianapolis Business Journal in February for its 2020 Forty Under 40 recognition.

The American Legion recently spoke with Milo about her military and public service path.

The American Legion: As a participant of Auxiliary Girls State in 2000, how did this program interest you in public service?

Blair Milo: “The West Wing” show (an American political drama TV series that aired from 1999-2006) was on around that time period, and I was fascinated with the show. And then I came across information about Girls State and the opportunity to connect in on kind of what government means and how to be a part of it, and being a responsible citizen – I thought this sounds great, absolutely. That experience at Girls State was truly, I think, the beginning of a journey in the world of public service for me that I was just fascinated with, as well as the opportunity of what good government service could be. I feel so blessed to have had mentors and inspirational leaders along the way that have cultivated it. But Girls State is where it started for me. And it was from that experience that I became interested in possibly the military.

Q: So Girls State led you to joining the U.S. Navy?

A: I can still vividly remember the car ride home from Girls State, where I had such a phenomenal week of learning so much about what public service is, what the process is for elected office, and the importance of civic engagement and the values that are intrinsic to the idea of America. I was really interested with how do I continue some of this. It was that car ride home that my mom mentioned it to me that well maybe you’d be interested in pursuing something with one of the service academies. It started the process for me of thinking through and learning more about the different services and then my sort of process of elimination being that I liked the Navy. I thought I want to serve and I like the water so let’s give this a shot.

Truly the car ride sparked it of that Navy piece, but the foundation had been laid prior.

Q: What leadership qualities did you gain from Girls State and the Navy that have guided you in your roles as a public service leader?

A: Some of those leadership tenants that come from commitment to service and commitment to our community were instilled really with Girls State, and that has continued to form my leadership models. So I think again Girls State kind of set the foundation that then just has continued to grow for me.

(With the Navy) I am so thankful for all of the leadership opportunities that I was provided … and to then gain the leadership development that my now civilian experience allows me to appreciate that military experience to understand that leadership development doesn’t happen in many other sectors the way that it does in the military. The way that the military helped me develop as a person, as a leader I’m forever grateful for. So I always encourage people that if they have some inclination to look into (the armed forces), to pursue it.

Q: You joined The American Legion following your transition out of active-duty service. What is your why for joining Post 83?

A: I was home visiting my parents and saw that the grass was past my waist in one of the parks near their house and that started the investigation process of what’s happening here in my hometown. Over the course of time I learned there was a challenge within the community and I wanted to come back and offer whatever services I could in leveraging some of the leadership experience I had from the Navy. So when I came back to La Porte, I wanted to get engaged in as many ways as possible to help serve the community and particularly wanted to be engaged with The American Legion because I knew they did a lot of supportive events for the community overall, but also for La Porte’s veterans community specifically. That Legion Post (83) had helped lay the foundation for me and my commitment to public service that I wanted to continue those opportunities for future generations.

Q: How did The American Legion support you as mayor of La Porte?

A: I don’t think I would have joined the Navy if not for the experience that I had with Girls State and what The American Legion provided for me in public service. I really enjoyed the opportunity to work with the post leadership and to work statewide with the Legion to support some of the girls going to Girls State.

We had conversations around a park that’s near the post that they were interested in being able to contribute toward supporting and improving overall. And they were really helpful too when I continued to stay engaged with shipmates and supporting individuals who were on active duty. Post 83 has been amazing and helpful in those efforts.

Q: Do you have an accomplishment during your time as mayor that you are most proud of?

A: I think a lot of times people want to point to specific tangible outcomes of which I’m really proud of the team for having many of those, whether it’s looking at the infrastructure improvement ($260 million in new investment) that we had, the growth in career opportunities (1,100 new jobs), those were things that we were all really passionate about providing across the city and part of what drove me to want to be engaged. But ultimately I just feel so thankful to have had the opportunity to work with an incredible team. And that as the military teaches us, the rule of the leader is not to create more followers – it’s to create more leaders. I think we’ve seen that across the community as so many people continue to step forward to serve and to continue thinking about problem solving in such creative ways. It’s an accomplishment of which I think much of my faith tells me that I typically try to answer God’s call to my life as well, then it’s an opportunity to have cultivated a community team that is continuously dedicated to serving not only the people of La Porte, but helping to set an example of what community can be all over the country and the world quite honestly.

Q: In your current role as Secretary of Career Connections and Talent, what are you working toward?

A: In this capacity we’re working to attract, develop and connect a 21st century workforce. That means we’re working to help grow the population, to help increase education attainment levels for people to be able to have the skills that are needed in an ever-changing landscape of what jobs are, and then to connect people up with those different types of career opportunities through not only developing some of those skills, but ensuring that they’re aware of what those opportunities can be. And we’re removing any barriers that may be in their way, whether it’s transportation, whether it’s access to child care, access to different types of wraparound supports that that individual needs in order to be able to take advantage of some really tremendous career opportunities that are growing across this state.

I work pretty regularly across all the different state agencies and departments, as well as across the state with community leaders, whether it’s superintendents of a school corporation or mayors, economic development leaders, trying to bring these folks to organize around how we are collectively working to do those three things of attracting and developing, connecting talent to Indiana.

Q: Have you been back to speak at Hoosier Girls State?

A: I had the opportunity to come (back to Girls State while mayor of La Porte) and give a speech and spend some time with (the participants). I chatted with girls about what their experience had been and just shared with them what my experience had been and how meaningful (Girls State) had been in my life that it led me to this passion for public service. It was such a special experience to get to engage with those gals. I had the opportunity to meet some of the (Girls State participants) from La Porte who then came to (La Porte) public meetings afterward. So really cool to be able to connect with those young ladies who I think have continued to take those lessons and the experience they received in their time at Girls State and continue to try and carry forward the banner of public service.

I’m thankful for the incredible work that The American Legion does with Girls State and Boys State. I’m particularly passionate about those (programs) because I think of the important role that they play in cultivating civic leaders for many generations. So just very thankful for all the work that the Legion does in so many different capacities.


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Florida post still serving through after-school program

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After being in existence for 23 years, Alton Green Memorial American Legion Post 194’s (St. Augustine, Fla.) Kids Safe Zone after-school program continues to be the benchmark for after-school programs in St. John’s County. “KSZ” and our summer camp programs are offered to the community at no cost to the parents. “Our kids are composed of ‘at-risk and often grandparent-raised’ kids who are in need of academic help and supervised recreational programs,” said Greg White, past post commander and overseer of the program. “We have four retired teachers and three assistants who assist with the 45-plus kids we have in our program.”

The teachers personally walk to the school and escort the kids from Webster Elementary School, right around the corner from the post. The KSZ program reaches out to kids pre-K through 8th grade. Program teachers give personal one-on-one assistance when needed, and a recent reporting period showed vast improvement in the kids’ reading and math grades.

The post holds a family night each reporting period to recognize those students who made the honor roll. Local vendors recently sponsored bicycles for the six “A” honor roll students and four for the “A-B” honor roll students. Legionnaires in attendance gave each honor roll student a gift card or a monetary donation as a continued incentive for the next period. The post also serves a free dinner for all in attendance. As honor students are recognized, their names are called and they run down to the front through a gauntlet of cheers and applause as if they were at a pep rally or athletic event. The smiles on their faces as they reach the front is worth every minute and dollar spent to keep the program afloat.

After the school year has ended, the post transitions to a summer camp where they have a focus on teaching kids to swim, taking them on cultural outings and letting them see firsthand how city and county government works. We realize that every kid has the potential to be successful, but has to be put in the type of environment and given the right exposure to nurture and grow on their goals in life. Our KSZ programs strive for those very things. We try hard to expose the kids in our program to all walks of life. In 2019, KSZ was awarded the Department of Florida’s “Best Children and Youth Program.”


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Legacy Scholarship allows recipient to follow in late father’s footsteps

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When Summer Chapline came across The American Legion Legacy Scholarship, she knew it was “an amazing opportunity” for someone like herself who met the qualifications. Her father, Joseph Chapline, served in the U.S. Army during Operation Iraqi Freedom and passed away in September 2015 from injuries sustained during service.

“He loved serving this country and has set an amazing example for myself and my siblings (sisters Macie and Aspen),” said Chapline, who lives with her godparents in Shawnee, Okla., and attends Indiana University (IU) in Bloomington, Ind. “My father always taught us to be grateful for this country, as well as the freedoms we have here. Our father was our superhero.”

Chapline is a 2019 recipient of The American Legion Legacy Scholarship which is awarded to children of post-9/11 veterans who were either killed on active duty or who have a combined VA disability rating of 50 percent or greater. The deadline to apply or reapply to the scholarship for the 2020 year is April 15. Apply online at www.legion.org/scholarships/legacy.

The Legacy Scholarship is making it possible for Chapline to attend IU and study Arabic and International Studies with a minor in International Relations.

“I am forever grateful to The American Legion for helping make (attending IU) possible for me,” Chapline said. “When I saw that I was eligible for the scholarship, I immediately felt relief. I knew that college was going to be very expensive for me, as I have always planned to pay for it on my own. Upon finding the scholarship, I got very excited as I realized that it was possible for me to go to an out-of-state college and still manage to obtain scholarships that support students who likely do not have a lot of financial resources or family members to help them in this area.”

Besides receiving The American Legion Legacy Scholarship, studying Arabic is another way Chapline is honoring her father’s military service – Joseph learned language skills in Arabic and Farsi.

“I have always admired what he has done for this country, and I wanted to follow his footsteps in some way,” Chapline said. She would like to use her skills following college by working for the government in a capacity that allows her to serve her country, like her father.

“My father taught us that in life that if you want to make a difference, you have to do something greater than yourself. I have always looked up to my dad, and he is the entire reason I study what I am currently studying. Because of my father, I want to make a difference in the world and protect our country. My father instilled a strong sense of patriotism in every one of us, and I plan to hold on to this for the entirety of my life.”

As part of IU’s Arabic Flagship Program, the Legacy Scholarship also is helping Chapline study abroad this summer in Morocco. And it’s allowed her to focus on her studies without the need to get a job, as well as participate in student activities such as being a Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies student ambassador.

“I would like to thank The American Legion,” Chapline said. “It warms my heart to know that organizations such as The American Legion care about the services and lives of veterans and their families. I know that my father would be incredibly grateful for (The American Legion) as well.

“I am considered a ward of the state with no financial help from family members. Coming to college was the biggest financial challenge that I have ever had. I just want The American Legion to know just how grateful I am to them, as well as how much they have helped me to achieve this year.”


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Did you know?

A veteran’s family must request a United States flag.

A flag is provided at no cost to drape the casket or accompany the urn of a deceased veteran. Generally, the flag is given to the next of kin. Only one flag may be provided per veteran. Upon the request of the family, an “Application for United States Flag for Burial Purposes” (VA Form 21-2008) must be submitted along with a copy of the veteran’s discharge papers. Flags may be obtained from VA regional offices and most U.S. Post Offices.