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Legion Baseball alum Pujols joins 700 HR club

American Legion Baseball alumnus Albert Pujols became the fourth player in Major League Baseball history to hit 700 career home runs when he hit two Friday night in St. Louis’ 11-0 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Pujols, who played Legion Baseball for Hi-Boy Drive/Post 340 in Independence, Mo., joined Barry Bonds (762 home runs), Hank Aaron (755) and Babe Ruth (714) in the 700-home run club. Bonds also played Legion Baseball, in San Mateo, Calif.

Pujols homered off Dodgers lefthander Andrew Heaney in the third inning for his 699th career home run, then notched No. 700 off righthander Phil Bickford in the fourth inning. Pujols also now has 2,208 career RBIs, trailing Aaron (2,297) and Ruth (2,214).

The victory helped the Cardinals improve to 89-63 overall, with a 7 ½ game lead over the Milwaukee Brewers in the National League Central Division with 10 games to play.

Pujols told MLB.com that he was overcome with emotion after No. 700.

“What a special night. To have my family in town and to do it at Dodger Stadium,” Pujols said, noting that his joy of the game returned when he played for the Dodgers last season. “It’s pretty special with the Dodgers fans here, and I get both sides of this. (The Dodgers) get to enjoy this and I get to do it with a Cardinals uniform, which makes it even more special. I’m just thanking God.”

Pujols plans to retire at the end of the season, wrapping up a 22-season MLB career with the Cardinals, Los Angeles Angels and Dodgers. He reflected on his American Legion Baseball experience in 2015.

American Legion Baseball Committee Chairman Gary Stone coached Pujols when he played Legion Baseball.

“He was a great young man,” Stone recalled in a 2015 interview. “One of the classy things that I like about Albert was after his first year with me, when all the travel teams found out about him, they all tried to take him and Albert said, ‘No, I committed to Gary Stone and American Legion and that’s where I am going to finish my career.’ And he did.”

Military Women’s Memorial planning 25th anniversary celebration

The Military Women’s Memorial will celebrate its 25th anniversary with three days of events and services in Washington, D.C.   

From Oct. 14-16, servicewomen, past and present and supporters of the memorial from across the country will gather to celebrate the milestone for military women. The memorial, located at the gates of Arlington National Cemetery, was dedicated on Oct. 18, 1997, with approximately 40,000 people present.  

The anniversary weekend will feature celebratory events, including branch luncheons, a happy hour-style reunion event, a candlelight remembrance ceremony and the official 25th anniversary program. The official program will include formal military honors, remarks by former and current military women representing each of the services, senior Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs officials and more.   

A highlight from the event will be the debut of a new anthem honoring military women. Guests at the events are invited to attend the dedication of the Vaught Center, named after the memorial’s founding president, retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Wilma L. Vaught.   

Those who are unable to attend the in-person events will have the opportunity to watch a livestreamed wreath-laying at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on behalf of the Women in Military Service for America Memorial Foundation and the servicewomen it represents. Click here to register for the wreath-laying, which will take place on Oct. 16, at 9:15 a.m. EST.  

In addition to the formal events, the memorial is hosting a 25th Anniversary 25-Day Challenge virtual race as a way for community members, friends, partners and supporters to celebrate the Military Women’s Memorial’s 25th anniversary in a fun way from anywhere in the world.   

The Military Women’s Memorial honors the service and legacy of the 3 million women who have served in the Armed Forces beginning with the Revolutionary War. It is the only historical repository documenting the service of military women and features an education center, interactive exhibitions, a collection of military women’s stories, and hosts programs and events for all generations.  

Military Women’s Memorial President Phyllis J. Wilson spoke at The American Legion’s National Convention on Sept 1.   

“I was a soldier and I didn’t feel like I needed a place for women only,” said Wilson. “I was wrong. America still does not quite get that there are three million women who have defended this nation. We get to tell their stories individually and collectively.”  

To learn more about the weekend’s events and to secure your tickets, visit https://womensmemorial.org/25th-anniversary/.   

VA’s new, multibillion-dollar health records system needs major improvements, agency says

A multibillion-dollar electronic health records system launched less than two years ago by the Department of Veterans Affairs needs major improvements, agency officials told senators on Wednesday.

"This is an extremely important effort to solve a decades-long problem and is essential that VA get it right for the health and safety of veterans," said Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee’s subpanel on military construction, veterans affairs, and related agencies. "In addition, this is a major investment, and VA has a responsibility to taxpayers to ensure the system works, and its success can be measured."

The VA originally signed a $10 billion contract with the company Cerner in May 2018 to overhaul the agency's health records system and make it compatible with the Defense Department’s system. However, the cost of the project later increased to about $16 billion.

So far, the new records system has been launched at five of the VA’s 166 health care facilities. In some cases, additional launches at some facilities have been postponed because of ongoing problems with records system, along with delays caused by the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

"I am concerned," said Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. "We're into this damn near five years and we haven't done a damn thing. I mean, we've implemented, and it's been a train wreck in my opinion."

At the Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center in Spokane, Wash., where the system was first launched in October 2020, issues included unauthorized and inaccurate medication orders, patients' name and gender errors, issues in scheduling primary care appointments, misdirected links to video medical appointments and lost referrals.

The VA had originally scheduled to launch the new records system in July at the Boise VA Medical Center but moved it to 2023 after the VA inspector general released a report that revealed the system caused harm to 149 VA patients.

"Just one vet harmed is one vet too many and, right now, the bottom line is that the Cerner system is not delivering for veterans in the ways that it should," VA Deputy Secretary Donald Remy said the hearing. "It needs major improvements.”

Shereef Elnahal, VA's undersecretary for health, said he visited the Columbus VA Medical Center in Ohio and saw firsthand the issues clinicians and providers faced using the records system. Among the most concerning problems that he said he saw included putting in orders for lab work or tests.

"They were not confident in many cases, and in many clinical settings, that those orders were actually getting where they needed to go on behalf of their veterans," Elnahal said. "So, there was a lot of manual rework, recheck, that had to be done to meet those veterans' needs."

He also said employees told him the system was stressful to use. Leaders at the Columbus VA facility told Elnahal that some employees quit partly because of problems working within system, Elnahal said.

In October, Paul Brubaker, acting principal deputy assistant secretary and deputy chief information officer at VA's Office of Information Technology, told House lawmakers that the agency contracted with the nonprofit Institute for Defense Analysis to calculate an estimate of costs of the Cerner electronic health record system.

A review issued in July by the institute estimated the implementation of the electronic health record system would cost nearly $39 billion in 13 years. The estimate also included more than $17 billion to sustain the system.

"VA has an opportunity to manage cost drivers such as productivity loss associated with deployments [of the new system]," Rieksts said during the hearing. "As the system is rolled out to more facilities, emerging information will provide additional insights regarding risk and uncertainty in the cost estimate.”

Mike Sicilia, executive vice president for industries at Oracle, which purchased Cerner in June, told the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee in July that he reviewed the system's issues. Oracle took over Cerner's electronic health record contract with the VA, Defense Department and the Coast Guard and established a command center led by Oracle's senior engineers.

Sicilia said Wednesday that Oracle hosted a summit with the VA, Defense Department, Federal Electronic Health Record Modernization Office, and Leidos Holdings Inc. to discuss the federal electronic health record system's performance and its issues. Sicilia said the meeting led to plans for the system and that Oracle sent a letter to the VA detailing the plans and a roadmap.

Sicilia also said Oracle is working with the VA to revamp training for employees to learn to use the electronic health records system.

"We are working on more than 40 different technical operational improvement projects for the federal enclave that we expect to lead to improved performance and greater stability," Sicilia said in his written testimony. "We have made progress already, completing four projects and expecting seven, potentially eight, more to be complete by the end of the year. As we work on these projects, we will continue to analyze the system and make other fixes as needed."

Finish Line Festival recognizes 100 Miles for Hope and Be the One

American Legion Post 420 in Steelton, Pa., hosted its first Finish Line Festival in 2020 to celebrate member participation in the Legion’s 100 Miles for Hope fitness and wellness challenge. When one of their members died by suicide in 2021, the festival became an honor to him while still recognizing the accomplishments of 100 Miles for Hope participants.

Post 420 and Legion Riders Chapter 998 in Lawnton, Pa., hosted its second annual Spc. David “Mikey” Crawford Jr. 100 Miles for Hope Finish Line Festival on Sept. 17 at the post. The event raised donations for The American Legion Veterans & Children Foundation, charity of 100 Miles for Hope, and brought awareness to the Legion’s “Be the One” campaign.  

“The ‘Be the One’ campaign for us just really hits home because one of our own took his own life,” said Unit 420 President Lisa Iskric, who led Post 420’s efforts to raise funds for and awareness of the 100 Miles for Hope challenge. “When The American Legion came out with the ‘Be the One’ campaign, we were like, ‘This is perfect. Let’s get on board.’”

The campaign aims to raise awareness about veteran suicide and empower everyone to “Be the One” to save the life of a veteran who is at risk. Learn more at betheone.org.

The celebration and remembrance event featured door prizes, raffles, food, entertainment and in-kind donations. A table featured a photo of Mikey, along with one of his uncles who also served and died by suicide in 2020. It also had 100 Miles for Hope incentives that Iskric won for raising $5,546 for V&CF – an autographed Jimmie Johnson 100 Miles for Hope shirt and a racing helmet autographed by Chip Ganassi Racing drivers Jimmie Johnson, Alex Palou and Tony Kanaan.

Iskric said the V&CF donations were made possible by her just asking, promoting on the post, unit and Sons of The American Legion Squadron 420 Facebook pages, and by her friend Bob Richards of nearby Squadron 730 sharing at district meetings what Post 420 was doing for 100 Miles for Hope.

“I just made sure that everyone knew exactly what the Veterans and Children Foundation is and what it does,” he said of the fund that supports disabled veterans and military families with children in the home who are in financial need. “People are excited to be a part of something that they believe in. I think the main thing is just getting the message out there, getting the focus out there of what this money goes to.”

Iskric said she was blown away by the amount of support from Legion Family statewide, including a $1,000 donation from her former Auxiliary Unit 272. “It really is the Legion Family at its finest around here.”

The support from the Pennsylvania Legion Family and community members was visible at the Finish Line Festival. More than $2,000 was raised for V&CF and to support veteran suicide prevention efforts.

“People were just really moved by what we are doing (with ‘Be the One’ and veteran suicide awareness),” Iskric said. “Mikey was a personal friend of mine. I really wish that he wasn’t the reason that we are doing this event. But his parents conveyed that we are turning a tragedy into a triumph. His dad has said to me that even if this event helps one person, that’s a win. That is our focus now with ‘Be the One’.”

Mikey’s parents, siblings, aunts, uncles and more were in attendance at Saturday’s festival. His father, David Crawford Sr., is a Post 420 member, and his mother is a headquarters post member. “It’s not easy to lose a child in this way and also his brother-in-law in the same way. I was really glad that we could have the event, he could let out all of his thoughts,” Iskric said of David Sr. who spoke about his son at the event. “It made me personally realize why we do what we do. If there is one person that might be having a bad day, I want them to know that we’re here, that they can come to us.”

Iskric said Post 420 has been raising awareness about mental health issues for a long time, adding that there’s an area inside the post where buttons and flyers with the VA Crisis Line 988 number on it are available for veterans to take. Now, the “Be the One” logo is there to start the conversation to save a life.

“The uncomfortable conversations, we want to make them more comfortable,” she said. “We are focused on being a safe place for veterans as well as their families to come. If they are having a mental issue or a mental break that they have us to speak to. Or if they want to come into the canteen and play tunes on the jukebox rather than contemplate suicide or take their own life, that’s really the goal.”

A few years ago, Post 420 received a phone call from an out-of-state veteran in crisis. Iskric spoke to him for a while and gave him the VA Crisis Line number to call. “These are real issues and real problems that we want to make sure we recognize,” she said. “And know what to do, know what to say and know how to Be the One. That’s what we’re doing … we’re being the one.”

Iskric reflected on a photo taken during the Finish Line Festival of Mikey’s family, all smiling. “That really meant a lot to me because I’m sure there are many other days that they are not smiling. It’s really nice to be able to do this event for not only them but anyone who might need some help or support as well.

“The event as a whole is a true testament to the Legion Family and what we do. We do what we have to do for our veterans and their families.”  

 

  

OUR KOREAN WAR STORY: South Korean Legion post participates in memorial ceremony for two American soldiers slain by North Korean soldiers

Steve Tharp, commander of Lewis L. Millett American Legion Post 38 in Seoul, attended the Barrett-Bonifas Memorial Ceremony held by the United Nations Command Security Battalion-Joint Security Area (JSA) in Camp Bonifas on Aug. 18. The memorial ceremony at JSA honored two American soldiers, Maj. Arthur Bonifas, of Newburgh, N.Y., the Joint Security Force company commander, and 1st Lt. Mark Barrett, of Columbia, S.C., the 1st Platoon leader. Both soldiers were brutally axed to death on Aug. 18, 1976, during a routine tree-trimming operation near the Bridge of No Return by North Korean soldiers. The memorial ceremony marked the 46th anniversary of the killing of the two soldiers. Three days later, the United Nations Command launched Operation Paul Bunyan in an overwhelming show of force against North Korea. Backed up by two eight-man teams from the 2nd Infantry Division, a 64-man South Korean Special Forces company and two 30-man security platoons from the Joint Security Force, the tree was successfully cut down without any resistance. During the memorial ceremony, Tharp, South Korean and U.S military members laid flowers at the site where the poplar tree once stood and paid their respects to the victims. The commander of the 2nd Infantry Division, Maj. Gen. David Lesperance, who was also at the event, said North Korea continues to develop capabilities that threaten not only South Korea, but regional allies and partners of the United States. "Like them (Bonifas and Barrett), we must strengthen our iron-clad commitment to security on the Korean peninsula, which has endured for 72 years, and never take it for granted."

Legion Family again brings awareness to POW/MIA issue

Last year in September, more than 160 American Legion Riders and over 40 passengers took part in the Riders’ first POW/MIA Remembrance, traveling across the Seven Bridges of Jacksonville that cross the St. John’s River. The ride ended at the National POW/MIA Memorial & Museum for a ceremony and was the Riders’ way of bringing awareness to the public about those U.S. servicemembers still listed as prisoners of war or missing in action.

But to organizers of the ride, one year wasn’t enough. So earlier this month, on Sept. 17 – one day after National POW/MIA Recognition Day – more than 200 motorcycles took part in the second annual Florida POW/MIA Remembrance Ride, departing Adamec Harley-Davidson in Jacksonville, riding across the seven bridges and again finishing up at the National POW/MIA Memorial for a ceremony.

“It’s important for people to not lose the message of the POWs and the MIAs and that they’re still missing,” said Department of Florida American Legion Riders Chairman Jim Wineland, a member of American Legion Post 129 in Jacksonville Beach. “It’s more of a message of remembrance to make sure we’ll never lose touch with it.”

Atlantic Beach, Fla., Post 316 Commander Denny Luke again served as the primary organizer for the ride. “The credit for this event goes 100 percent toward Denny,” Wineland said. “He’s the one who brought it to the ALR general membership. He’s the one that brought the attention to it. Denny’s the man. Denny gets the gold star for the whole thing.”

At the ceremony following the ride, the University of Jacksonville ROTC students provided the parade of colors and retirement of colors, and also did a Missing Man ceremony. Luke also noted that several members of Department of Florida leadership were in attendance for the ride, including Past Department Commander and current Alternate National Executive Committeeman Jerry Brandt, First Vice Commander Michael Raymond, Second Vice Commander Chris Hamrick, Northern Area Commander Jim Bowers and multiple district commanders. Hamrick served as guest speaker for the ceremony following the conclusion of the ride.

“Our goal is to make this an annual event, and not just a Riders event, but a complete Legion event,” Luke said. “So we have leadership from the Department of Florida come up and participate in not only the ride, but the ceremony as well.”

Wineland said that type of buy-in at the department level is important. “The leadership is definitely involved, and there’s a commitment from the leadership,” he said. “That is nice to see … that everybody understands the importance of this.

“It’s just important in my eyes, being a veteran … that we still have lost soldiers that will never be found. And that doesn’t give the families closure, and that’s important for the families to move on.”

For photos of the ride, click here.

National Commander Troiola honors POWs, MIAs During Montana Visit. During his official visit to Montana, American Legion National Commander Vincent J. Troiola was a guest speaker at the 43rd annual Prisoner of War and Missing in Action Recognition Day event at Memorial Park in Helena.  

“Honoring the men and women who have been held captive, and pressing for a full accounting for those who remain missing, is a sacred mission of our organization,” Troiola said during the ceremony, adding that purpose of such an event “is to keep this issue at the top of all our agendas and reminding the media, our leaders and the public to never forget these heroic men and women.”

The following are a few of the ways American Legion Family members across the nation commemorated National POW/MIA Recognition Day. Please remember to share how your post, unit, squadron or chapter observed the day at Legiontown.org.

Alabama

·       In Priceville, around 100 people attended a POW/MIA remembrance ceremony at Veteran’s Park hosted by American Legion Post 15 in Decatur. Post Commander and retired U.S. Army Capt. Joseph Woodbury delivered the opening remarks. "The Department of Defense estimates there's about 81,600 servicemen and women that left home to defend democracy on foreign shores and never made it back home to their loved ones," Woodbury said. "There's no closure for their families, and these servicemen and women don't get the recognition they deserve."

·       In Phenix City, Fletcher-McCollister Post 135, in partnership with the CSM Association of Fort Benning, conducted a ceremony at the Phenix City Amphitheater. The welcome was provided by Post Commander Nancy Jones, while the Russell County High School JROTC team provided the color guard. During the ceremony, Post 135 member Earl Hutchinson said that a movement to recognize prisoners of war and those missing in action began around the early 1970s when he was stationed at NAS Oceana. “And my unit was responsible for training the pilots and navigators for the missions over in Vietnam,” he said. “We did not get on a first name basis with a lot of the officers, but we recognize them. We recognize their name. So whenever we heard of somebody being shot down, or they became a POW or were listed missing in action, they started a campaign for wearing a rubber bracelet.”

Colorado

In Colorado Springs, American Legion Centennial Post 209’s Legion Family conducted a POW/MIA recognition ceremony by Post Commander Rob Barry and Chaplain Brad Henderson. All veterans present were given certificates of appreciation for their honorable service to the nation.

Connecticut

·       In Bristol, members of American Legion Post 2 gathered for their POW/MIA ceremony that included remarks from Post 2 member Bob Barnett about his experience as the relative of a POW/MIA soldier. Barnett’s brother, George Joseph Barnett Jr., was a prisoner of war during the Korean War. In 1954, Barnett learned that his brother had been executed at a prisoner of war camp. “We do this because we can’t forget, not any of them, not George, not World War II veterans or WWI,” Barnett said. “In my case, I know what happened to my brother. There are many who will never know.”

·       In Braintree, American Legion Post 86’s observation of the day that included Post Adjutant John Pelose reading an explanation of why the empty POW/MIA table is set up the way it is.

Florida

American Legion Haisley Lynch Post 16 hosted the Alachua County observance of National POW/MIA Recognition Day. The guest of honor was Hank "Sarge" McQuinn, who was wounded in action during the Korean War and later captured after a combat jump behind enemy lines. Post 16 provided lunch following the ceremony.

Kentucky

In Bowling Green, American Legion Post 23 and members of the Greenwood High School Navy JROTC hosted a POW/MIA Recognition Day ceremony that included the setting of POW/MIA table, a 21-gun salute, the playing of taps and more.

Nebraska

In Papillion, American Legion Post 32 hosted its annual POW/MIA Recognition Day ceremony.

New Hampshire

In Jaffey, members of American Legion Post 11’s Legion Family and other community members conducted a 24-hour vigil over a POW/MIA table to honor Americans who are missing in action or prisoners of war. Those who participated stood guard over the table in 15-minute shifts over the 24 hours.  

“The whole purpose of it is to make people aware there are still POWs and MIAs that are not accounted for. We just want to keep that in the public’s mind,” American Legion Department of New Hampshire Commander Charlie Arkwell told the Monadock Ledger-Transcript.  “Not just for the veterans, but for everybody in this country – they should be very grateful for the people that have stepped up and served, but should keep in mind also, the POWs and MIAs and their families, and what they’re going through not knowing where their loved ones are.”

New Jersey

The Sons of The American Legion Detachment of New Jersey conducted its 32nd annual POWMIA remembrance watchfire in Seaside. The 12-hour vigil took place from 7 p.m.-7 a.m. Sept. 17. View photos from the event here.

New York

·       In Binghamton, American Legion Post 1645 hosted its annual POW/MIA ceremony, reading the stories of notable prisoners of war and missing servicemembers from past U.S. conflicts and wars. The ceremony also included prayers, speeches and patriotic music.

·       In West Endicott, Post 1700 also hosted a POW/MIA event. Post 1700 Commander Dave Williams said it’s important to remember and honor their contributions. “These men and women have given sacrifices for this country so that we can do and have things that we do on an everyday basis without even thinking about it. If it wasn’t for the sacrifice that they made to this country, we wouldn’t be able to do these things that we take for granted.”

North Carolina

In Vass, American Legion Post 296 presented a POW/MIA flag to the Town of Vass to fly in the town’s Cameron Irby Memorial Park. Post 296 Commander Matt Litzinger presented the flag to Mayor Pro Tem Matthew Callahan at the Town Board of Commissioners meeting.

Ohio

American Legion 211 in Avon Lake combined its POW/MIA remembrance ceremony with a celebration of the U.S. Air Force’s 75th birthday. During the ceremony, the post placed its fourth memorial stone, this one honoring the Air Force. The newest, along with the three previous in place (Army, Coast Guard and Marine Corps) will be joined by a U.S. Navy stone during the post’s Navy birthday event.  

South Dakota

American Legion Post 15 in Sioux Falls hosted its annual POW/MIA remembrance service at Veterans Memorial Park.

Tennessee

In Hawkins County, American Legion Post 21 hosted POW/MIA ceremony that was open to the public.

Texas

In The Colony, American Legion Holley-Riddle Post 21 conducted a POW/MIA Recognition Sunset Vigil at Stewart Creek Park.

Utah

In Salt Lake City, American Legion Post 112’s Legion Family hosted an event that also included live music.

American Legion Riders gather to honor one of their own

On eight different occasions, Denise Kroeger went with her uncle – longtime Illinois American Legion Rider Jim Cowley – to the Rolling Thunder Run motorcycle weekend in Washington, D.C. There was something she noticed then that she saw again on full display last weekend in Galva, Ill., as Legion Riders from across the nation came to honor her uncle and support his family.

Cowley passed away at age 75 on July 23 of this year, a little less than a month before the start of the 2022 American Legion Legacy Run, of which he served as assistant chief road captain from 2008 to 2021. Legion Riders from states that included Florida, Virginia, Tennessee, Missouri, Kansas, Indiana, Iowa and Kentucky traveled to Galva to attend a family and friends breakfast, the visitation and funeral service, as well as a lunch at Habgerg-Hamlin Post 45, where Cowley was a member for 54 years.  

Kroeger said meeting other American Legion Riders during Rolling Thunder was “like instant family. It’s like you saw each other yesterday (and) we have never met each other. For me, traveling with Jim and doing Rolling Thunder, that’s what I felt every time I would be at a Legion post. It did not matter where we were. You were family.

“One of the takeaways (from last weekend) that I had is they have all ridden together in some fashion so many times that it is the extension of family. It’s not just Legion Family, but this is what you do.”

That includes showing up at fellow Riders’ funeral services, which Kroeger – who lives in Iowa – said was something her uncle engaged in often. “He had done the same so many times, and we might not have known about it until he was home,” she said. “He would be gone to this service or gone to that service.”

Denise and her aunt, Janene Felter, are Cowley’s sole survivors. Both were in Galva, where Felter said she was overwhelmed by the show of support from the other Legion Riders.

“My feeling of having them come is one of complete honor for them to join us at this time,” Felter said. “Their respect for my brother, I can only so thank you. There are no words. The miles that they rode. They stayed in the hotel right with us. They’d come up and shake my hand … and the tears in their eyes, it was just a heartfelt tribute to the man that they rode with.”

Felter, who lives in Montana, said Cowley obviously shared information about his own family while among his fellow Legion Riders. “He would come and visit us, or we would see each other at a family thing, and he would talk about his ride family and his Legion family,” she said. “And what we discovered this weekend is, (We’d be asked) ‘Oh, you’re the sister out West. You’re the family out West. Is it your boy that went to the Naval Academy?’ What we know is he was always talking to someone about some part of his family in some way, shape or form.”

A U.S. Air Force veteran Cowley helped charter Post 45’s American Legion Riders chapter, and after taking part in a few legs of the first two Legacy Runs, he was installed as assistant chief road captain. During last weekend’s events, Legacy Run Chief Road Captain Mark Clark presented Denise and Janene with a flag that rode with the Legion Riders on this year’s Legacy Run

Felter said Cowley’s passion, along with the navigational skills he’d developed form over 30 years in the trucking industry, were a perfect combination for helping lead the annual ride.

“I will say that the Legacy Run culminates the finest work of his life,” Felter said. “The synergy between his logistics brain – the virtual road map that was always present in his mind – to have the opportunity to bring that together with his passion for the Legion. Then add the purpose of helping the children get to college to be able to honor their parents’ sacrifice in this way, and to bring it all together in a way he could truly help – that’s his wheelhouse.

“To know the roads and the way the road system in the U.S. goes together, to know the little side roads, the U.S. roads and routes that in many ways may be better than an interstate ever could be – to bring all those things together … just seems to me to be the culmination of all the things he did outside of farming that was paying it forward and doing good and being the very humble veteran and Legionnaire that he’s always been.”

Cowley was also active with the Patriot Guard Riders (PGR) and was a big supporter of the Honor Flight Network annual fundraiser in nearby Bishop Hill. This year’s Bishop Hill Honor Flight Network Benefit took place Sept. 18; Felter and Denise were in attendance. During the event, a memorial program took place to honor Cowley for his years of dedication and support for the benefit and for veterans in general.

“His ALR ride world overlaps with his (Patriot Guard Riders) family,” Felter said. “And his PGR family overlaps with his family, and his Legion brothers in the post, and his Legion brothers and sisters in Illinois and the region, and at the national level, it’s an extension of him and his character and his personality.”

Felter won’t be surprised if she and Denise find out that Cowley was involved in even more activities and organizations to benefit and honor others. “It will take us a while to unravel all the things that Jim Cowley was wrapped up in,” she said. “He truly found himself in all of these nonprofit endeavors, and I just simply could not be prouder.”

Arkansas ALR chapter uses community awareness to show incredible growth in first year

While working for Harley-Davidson in Southern California, Mike Stambough had multiple positive interactions with American Legion Riders in the area.

But when Stambough moved to the Hot Springs, Ark., area a few years ago and joined American Legion Post 13 there, he noticed the post didn’t have a Riders chapter. So he and a few others set out to change that.

A year ago, American Legion Riders Chapter 13 was chartered, and recently the group celebrated its one-year anniversary, as well as its exceptional growth. From the original five members, the chapter has grown to 38 Legion Riders – the largest chapter in the state – and continues to look to the future, and to more growth and community involvement.

Stambough was the chapter’s first director and now serves as the Department of Arkansas’ District 14 commander and Southwest Area vice director for the Riders. He said when he joined Post 13 two years ago, he found a kindred spirit in Rob Taylor, who also had wanted to start a Riders chapter. “We found three other members of the post and got it started,” he said. “But Rob and I were talking about this a couple of times in the past few weeks. This has exceeded our wildest expectations. We both thought by our one-year mark we might have 10 members with the original five. But this has just exploded.”

After forming the chapter, the goal was immediately raising its profile. “My vision for this was to get all the veterans groups in Hot Springs working together on one mission,” said Stambough. “So one of the first things we did was seek out the other veteran riding groups in this area and offer our services to them.”

Stambough said he and Taylor both said they’d hold office for one year – Taylor was assistant director for the chapter’s first year – before handing over the reins to someone else. In stepped Darrell “Shorty” McCoy, who served 17 years in the U.S. Army as a recruiter, to take over as chapter director. McCoy and Stambaugh met through a mutual friend, Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association AR 7-7 Commander Jon Tenbrink, a member of Post 13 and McCoy’s brother-in-law. McCoy wasn’t eligible for CVMA membership because he’d not seen combat, but he and others with similar service backgrounds were encouraged to join Chapter 13.

“He has been instrumental in our growth,” Stambough said. “I’m going to say he has been responsible for at least 60 percent of it. Shorty has a really good vision of where he wants to take the Riders next.”

McCoy said he was able to get some of the fellow motorcyclists he’d ridden with in the past to join Chapter 13. “And if someone was on a motorcycle, I would introduce myself and find out of they were a vet or qualified to be a Rider,” he said. “And instead of me trying to talk them into joining, I’d just be blunt with them and say, ‘Swing by the (post), meet everybody, and you make your own decision.’

“But it wasn’t just me. Everybody had a part in it. I just got them there. It was up to our (Legion Family) to make them feel welcome and want to join. And when people see people having fun and doing good things, they want to be a part of it. And that’s what we’re trying to do.”

Chapter 13 does a church ride every month, visiting a local church to expand the visibility for the chapter. It’s also in the process of getting involved in visiting prisons to meet with the veterans imprisoned there, as well as setting up a recruitment table once a month at the Hot Springs VA Clinic.

Stambough said Chapter 13 currently has 14 members under the age of 40, with the youngest being 21.

“We are actually young people that like to ride,” McCoy said. “It’s more or less actually being together in a family atmosphere. That’s what everybody stresses. It’s addictive.”

Stambough said Post 13 had struggled being active prior to forming the ALR chapter, but since then formation of the group membership and activity all have grown in the post, Auxiliary unit and Sons of The American Legion squadron.

“We’d have five or six (members) show up to meetings,” he said. “Now that the Riders have come in, all of the people that had been at the post for a long time comment to us, ‘Man, this post has changed so much since you came in.’ They’re all excited about the changes, and now they’re starting to get involved again.”

Stambough said the chapter is planning a joint ride with Missouri Legion Riders in the future and will take part in a Pony Express that will travel from post to post in Arkansas to pick up donations for the 2023 Legacy Run. He called the upside for ALR 13 “way high. We’re active every weekend. And now that we have the numbers, even if some of us our unable to attend an event, and there’s three or four events on the same weekend, we can send five or six representatives to each event.”

McCoy said the goal is to hit 50 members by the end of 2022. “And I want to be known in the community not just as a biker group, but someone that helps people,” he said. “We have raised money for people that are in need. That’s kind of the backbone for The American Legion: to help veterans. We’re just trying to push that.”

For Stambough, everything started with making Hot Springs and the surrounding area aware of Chapter 13 its mission.

“I’m going to attribute everything to the fact that we got out in the community and started getting involved in the community and other veteran organizations,” he said. “When we did, they saw our brotherhood, they saw our excitement. They saw our passion, and whatever we were doing appealed to them.”

American Legion calls on Congress to pass Afghan Adjustment Act

The American Legion joined forces with a coalition of 24 veterans service organizations (VSOs) calling on Congress to pass legislation that would allow Afghan humanitarian parolees who are being evacuated from Afghanistan to have an opportunity to seek lawful permanent residence in the United States.   

Advocates are calling for the bipartisan Afghan Adjustment Act to be included in the upcoming FY2023 Continuing Resolution. Contact your members of Congress and urge them to pass this critical legislation.

In a letter to Senate and House leadership, the VSOs highlighted the promises made to the Afghan allies who served alongside U.S. forces during two decades of war, calling it a “sacred obligation.”   

“We have a code in the U.S. military, ‘no one left behind,’ reads the letter. “For two decades, we fought shoulder-to-shoulder with brave Afghan allies who served with and protected American forces, fighting for the freedom of Afghanistan and its people.   

“Last year, when the Taliban forces seized control of the country, our Afghan allies faced and continue to face persecution for having stood by us. Many of us made personal commitments to our allies, and we believe that the United States has a sacred obligation to the people of Afghanistan. We must honor the promises we made as a nation and are duty-bound to fulfill.”   

The legislation could provide the approximately 76,000 Afghan evacuees in the U.S. with a pathway to permanent residency. Many are eligible for asylum or special immigrant visas (SIV) due to the critical assistance they provided to the U.S. during 20 years of war in Afghanistan.   

Those currently admitted into the U.S. under temporary humanitarian parole have protection for a maximum of two years. They are quickly running out of time — protections will expire as early as August 2023.    

Despite being eligible for these programs, their futures remain uncertain. Both the SIV and asylum processes are faced with steep backlogs and logistical issues, as well as concerns regarding the vetting process, have been raised by some critics of the effort. Many more — such as Female Tactical Platoon Members, Afghan Special Forces who served in joint U.S. missions, and Afghan Air Force pilots who left their families behind to fly U.S. military aircraft out of Afghanistan so they didn’t fall into the hands of the Taliban — are ineligible for an SIV.  Despite these concerns, polling data on the Afghan Adjustment Act show nearly 70% of Americans support taking in Afghans fleeing the increasingly devolving security situation in their homeland.   

For the majority of Americans who support the Afghan Adjustment Act, most believe that the U.S. has a duty to help U.S.-affiliated Afghans and that they deserve permanent residency in the U.S. because they risked their own lives and those of their families to assist U.S. forces during the war. By providing these humanitarian parolees with permanent residency, it would also provide them with a path towards U.S. citizenship.   

When presented with information about the support the legislation has from prominent veterans organizations like The American Legion, public approval for the Afghan Adjustment Act increases by 17 percentage points. Additionally, public support increases by 16 percentage points when people are informed about the robust security measures being taken in vetting the Afghans who are admitted into the U.S.  

All Afghans who seek to apply for adjustment must undergo additional security vetting — with requirements equivalent to those used in the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program — including an in-person interview. Those Afghans who do not meet the qualifications must also participate in a joint vetting database between the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security. There is no other congressional action that will ensure this additional layer of vetting. 

“We must honor the promises we made as a nation and are duty-bound to fulfill,” the VSOs continued in their letter to congressional leadership. “Failure to do so already calls into question this nation’s ability to adhere to our code and our values.   

“We must provide genuine and lasting protection to the Afghans who have made it safely to the United States and to those who have been left behind. The longer we go without meeting this promise, the more our moral injuries fester.”  

Currently, veterans are standing beside their Afghan allies on Capitol Hill in a fire watch vigil to highlight the legislation they believe will save the lives of those targeted for retaliation by the Taliban for their service alongside American forces. If Congress fails to include the act in the continuing resolution, The American Legion and the VSO community will work tirelessly to get the Afghan Adjustment Act passed this Congress.   

“We promised to stand by our allies, those who served in uniform and those who we championed to publicly defend women’s and democratic rights, often at risk to themselves and their families,” the coalition wrote. “The U.S. government made that promise as well and keeping it assures that the American handshake still means something. A promise on which, like us, the next generation of military service members lives will rely.” 

Emergency grants available to help in disaster relief

In the wake of last weekend’s typhoon and flooding in Alaska, and the devastation wreaked by Hurricane Fiona in Puerto Rico and across the Caribbean, a reminder that The American Legion stands ready to assist eligible Legionnaires, American Legion posts and Sons of The American Legion impacted by these and other natural disasters.

Grants from the National Emergency Fund (NEF) are available — up to $3,000 to Legionnaires and SAL members displaced due to damages to their primary residence from declared natural disasters, and up to $10,000 for Legion posts that have been damaged by a natural disaster and whose programs and activities within the community have been impacted.

Click here for the NEF grant application.

For assistance in completing the application, click here for a video presentation. And this video illustrates how disaster relief teams were set up in Illinois following a tornado outbreak.

NEF grants are made possible from the generosity of donations to the fund. Donate here

In addition to the requirement that an emergency declaration be made for a natural disaster, applicants must be current on their membership prior to the disaster and at the time of application submission, and must provide photos, receipts, insurance paperwork, and FEMA statements if possible.

The Temporary Financial Assistance (TFA) program is also available to assist American Legion eligible veterans with minor children in the home who need financial help to pay for shelter, food, utilities, and medical expenses.

For TFA information on eligibility requirements and how to apply, visit legion.org/financialassistance.

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