American Legion News
Legionnaires can purchase discounted tickets for PPG 375 race in Texas
Alex Palou will be driving the No. 10 American Legion Be The One Honda April 2 for Chip Ganassi Racing in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES PPG 375 at the Texas Motor Speedway. Legionnaires planning on attending the race can now do so at a discounted price.
Between now and 11:59 p.m. March 26, Legionnaires can purchase $12 tickets by following this link. Tickets are only $10 for children ages 12 and under through the offer.
Reminder: Parking is free at Texas Motor Speedway, and attendees are permitted to bring into the track a soft-sided cooler.
Repaved and redesigned in 2017, the Texas Motor Speedway 1.5-mile oval features 20 degrees of banking in Turns 1 and 2 and 24 degrees of banking in Turns 3 and 4.
For the complete race weekend schedule, click here.
Oklahoma Post 337 provides site for local police training
When Talala (Okla.) Police Chief Ronald Eaton was looking for a site to host training for his department's auxiliary officers, he turned to American Legion Higeons-Clemmens Post 337 for help.
"Our post has a great working relationship with our city leaders and provide our facility quite often for meetings and other activities," said SAL Detachment of Oklahoma NECman Chris Cook. "Because we are a small community, there is no other facility other than churches that can handle larger gatherings.
"He explained the requirements and time frame that they were looking at and after presenting it to the post membership, we offered our facility at no charge for their training needs."
The Talala Police Basic Reserve Academy met at the post almost every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday evening, as well as three or four weekends, from October 2022 through January 2023. The cadets also made a few improvements to the post, including replacing a toilet and light bulbs and assisting with weekly cleaning.
"We appreciate the post and the members for allowing our cadets to meet and use the facilities," Eaton said. "The training we received and the friendships that were made were only possible by you allowing us to use the building and that can never be repaid."
"The benefits that the post was able to gain with our participation was immediate," Cook said. "We were extremely surprised and pleased with their results."
Veterans outreach and benefits assistance set for Connecticut
Department of Connecticut Legionnaires are staging a revitalization and veteran outreach effort from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. April 1. Veterans in and around Tolland and Windham Counties who attend can receive veterans benefits claims assistance – including with PACT Act claims – and learn about American Legion programs and advocacy.
The effort will take place at American Legion Post 14, 114 West St., Vernon. A department veteran service officer will be available to assist area veterans with claims or other veteran benefits related questions during these times.
Honoring Medal of Honor recipients
Retired Navy SEAL and former NASA chief astronaut Chris Cassidy is now the president and chief executive officer of the National Medal of Honor Museum Foundation.
With National Medal of Honor Day (March 25) just around the corner, Cassidy is this week's guest on The American Legion Tango Alpha Lima podcast, hosted by Jeff Daly and Ashley Gutermuth.
Through education, leadership and inspiring spaces for learning and reflection, the National Medal of Honor Museum Foundation preserves and expands the impact of the 3,515 recipients and the more than 40 million Americans who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces since the Civil War.
The Arlington, Texas, museum is under construction now with plans to open on Medal of Honor Day in 2025. For Cassidy, it was a perfect fit, extending his passion for service to America.
"It felt like a great opportunity to continue to serve," he says of his role.
Cassidy's vision is for the museum to share stories of courage and leave visitors inspired to pursue their own acts of courage.
"Our museum and our institute are not going to be where you learn the history of military wars," he explained. "It's not going to be where you see tons of tanks or airplanes. This is going to be a museum of biographies and stories of individual people, normal Americans, who did something extraordinary when the country needed them. These stories of courage, sacrifice and love of teammate are what we are highlighting."
(Check out the Legion's video collection of Medal of Honor recipients sharing their first-person accounts of service and sacrifice.)
Cassidy, who was selected as an astronaut in 2004, did three space flights and 10 space walks. He has flown to the lnternational Space Station aboard space shuttle Endeavor and the Russian Soyuz spacecraft.
Recalling when he was first assigned to a space mission, he says, "It was a really cool moment. It was really exciting."
Launch day was a memorable moment, he says. After literally packing their bags, leaving behind almost everything and getting into their space suits, the team was driven to the launch pad.
"You get there and you look up at this rocket, fully fueled, steam coming out of it, ice on it," he explains. "It's just crazy. And you realize it's game day. We're getting into that thing. All these nerves, excitement and pride. It's such a cool day. Launch day is really special."
Daly and Gutermuth also discuss:
• In a very touching moment, Daly recalls surviving and recovering from his stroke that occurred one year ago today, March 21.
• Why yoga is for everyone, as recent guest Brianna Renner of the Veterans Yoga Project discussed on this episode of Tango Alpha Lima.
• The Punisher — "the greatest super hero in the Marvel universe," claims Daly — is back.
• A military discount for Major League Baseball.
Check out this week's episode, which is among more than 170 Tango Alpha Lima podcasts available in both audio and video formats here. You can also download episodes on iTunes, Google Play or other major podcast-hosting sites. The video version is available at the Legion's YouTube channel.
Six steps to a successful ‘Be the One' event
American Legion posts, districts and department are finding creative and impactful ways of delivering the Be the One message to their communities. Since the campaign to reduce the rate of veteran suicide was launched less than a year ago, American Legion events have included hikes and ruck marches, symposiums and outreach initiatives such as this one at a Portland Trail Blazers NBA game.
Here are six steps to creating, promoting and hosting a successful Be the One event in your community:
1. Determine what type of event fits your community best. Once you decide whether it is an awareness hike, educational program or other event, determine the best options for a location, date and external partners.
2. Get internal support. Engage with and rally other members of your post, squadron, Auxiliary, Legion Riders, district and/or department. There are likely people who are passionate about preventing veteran suicide who would be willing to contribute to the overall effort. Work on a timeline, build a list of tasks and make assignments to those involved in the effort.
3. Visit the Be the One resources page at the national website. There are a wide range of promotional resources available for your use. Those include videos, customizable brochures, a sample press release, banners and more. Learn how to download and customize a brochure like this Legionnaire from Arizona did for an event at his post.
4. Look outside your Legion Family for support. Discuss with community partners about how they can support this initiative to save the lives of veterans. That could mean utilizing the space at a community center. Or having guests from other community service partners present and/or speak at the event. It could also mean donations to the Be the One initiative.
5. Promote the event internally and externally. Send a press release and reach out to local media and encourage them to advance the event and cover it. National headquarters has created a sample template for a press release, which can be downloaded here. Once you open the Word document, you can update it with your event information and distribute it to local media, community partners and others. Additonally, National Headquarters is always on the lookout for good Be the One stories to share. Submit your event, before and/or after, with a story on the Legiontown web page.
6. Do an after action report. Note what was successful and what could be improved upon for next time. And know that your contribution to the Be the One initiative likely saved the life of at least one veteran.
Let's keep surpassing our SAL membership goals
Greetings, Sons of The American Legion,
We all know how vital our membership numbers are. The more voices we have in the Sons of The American Legion, the greater we are as one voice supporting our veterans and communities with full-throated enthusiasm.
I'm proud to congratulate you on surpassing our 80% membership target goal. As of March 17, the SAL is now at 326,330 members. That's 88.73% of our membership goal for the year. We had fifty detachments that met this target goal, and four detachments are already above 100%.
I appreciate the hard work you all have done to help us get to this point. But let's not ease up now. I encourage you to reach out to former SAL members and invite them back into the fold. Please get out into your communities and find potential SAL members who may not be aware of all that we do.
We are on track but let's make sure we not only make, but surpass, our 100% membership goal.
I encourage you to support The American Legion Veterans & Children Foundation (VCF). VCF is not only my project this year, but it is such an important part of supporting our veterans and their families.
Donations to VCF help provide food and shelter to children of veterans and servicemembers facing unexpected hardships. It also helps fund training and accreditation for American Legion service officers, who fill a vital role in assisting veterans and their families apply for disability benefits, survivor assistance, GI Bill opportunities and more.
Contributions are tax-deductible and can be made safely online at Legion.org/VCF.
Be the One!
With passion and purpose.
SAL National Commander Christopher Carlton
Five Things to Know, March 20, 2023
1. North Korea said Monday it simulated a nuclear attack on South Korea with a ballistic missile launch over the weekend that was its fifth missile demonstration this month to protest the largest joint military exercises in years between the U.S. and South Korea. The North's leader Kim Jong Un instructed his military to hold more drills to sharpen the war readiness of his nuclear forces in the face of "aggression" by his enemies, state media reported.
2. Chinese leader Xi Jinping arrived in Moscow on Monday for a three-day visit that shows off Beijing's new swagger in world diplomatic affairs and offers a welcome political lift for Russian President Vladimir Putin just days after an international arrest warrant was issued for him on war crimes charges related to the war in Ukraine. China and Russia have described Xi's trip as an opportunity to further deepen their "no-limits friendship." China looks to Russia as a source of oil and gas for its energy-hungry economy, and as a partner in standing up to what both see as U.S. domination of global affairs. The two countries also have held joint military drills.
3. Tokyo lodged a series of diplomatic protests with Beijing last week after China sent several coast guard vessels, including one armed with a deck-mounted machine gun, near its islets in the East China Sea. Four Chinese coast guard ships passed the 12-mile territorial limit around the Senkakus eight times in three separate incidents on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, a Japanese coast guard spokesman told Stars and Stripes by phone Monday. Each ship stayed in those waters for less than 24 hours and left without incident.
4. A Pentagon study has found high rates of cancer among military pilots and for the first time has shown that ground crews who fuel, maintain and launch those aircraft are also getting sick. The data had long been sought by retired military aviators who have raised alarms for years about the number of air and ground crew members they knew who had cancer. They were told that earlier military studies had found they were not at greater risk than the general U.S. population.
5. The remains of a soldier killed in World War II will be buried in San Diego, California, decades after his death, according to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency. Scientists positively identified Army Tech Sgt. Matthew L. McKeon's remains on Jan. 12, 2023, according to a recent release from the agency. McKeon was assigned to Company K, 3rd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division in November 1944. He was reported killed in action when his unit was fighting German forces near Hürtgen, Germany, in the Hürtgen Forest. At the time, his remains were not recovered.
On 20th anniversary, US veterans and Iraqis grapple with war's legacy
Michael Ashby got out of the Army after injuries from seven roadside bomb blasts in Iraq caught up with him.
One explosion slammed him into the ceiling of his armored vehicle and ruptured his neck vertebrae, an injury he calls his Iraqi souvenir. The blast left him a half-inch shorter.
Ashby, 46, considers himself lucky. He has friends who didn't survive Iraq, either while deployed or after they came home.
The U.S. invasion of Iraq 20 years ago evokes complicated and often bitter emotions, and questions of whether the war was worth it sparked a wide range of responses from U.S. veterans and Iraqi citizens.
Most accounts hold Saddam Hussein's dictatorship responsible for killing hundreds of thousands of people, including ethnic cleansing campaigns against the Kurds in the country's north.
But the removal of Saddam and the operations of the past two decades have cost the lives of 4,599 U.S. troops in Iraq, according to Pentagon figures. That's in addition to coalition-nation deaths and anywhere from 276,000 to 308,000 war-related Iraqi deaths, according to Brown University's Costs of War project.
Despite the well-recounted early failures in planning that led to insurgencies and a host of other problems, some U.S. service members were more hopeful about Iraq's future toward the end of combat operations in 2011 than the U.S. public, as reflected by opinion polls.
Ashby, who trained Iraqi soldiers, had been optimistic about the nation's prospects.
"I'm excited to see what the Iraqis can do, actually," Ashby told Stars and Stripes in 2011 while serving as a sergeant with the 115th Brigade Support Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division. He believed then that the U.S. war in Iraq was worth it, adding, "It better be."
It was the Iraqi military's failure against the Islamic State group in the ensuing years that shook Ashby, who did four tours in Iraq.
"All that effort to train these soldiers, then we watched them throw up their arms and run," Ashby said in a recent call.
Some of that was attributable to corruption in the heavily centralized Iraqi military structure. Officers in Anbar province, where ISIS made fast gains, told Stars and Stripes in 2011 that Baghdad had sent them barely any bullets and training gear.
Ashby has struggled with what his service meant. He sometimes goes out of his way to avoid hearing about Iraq. Was the war worth it? He said he no longer knows.
"I used to think about it a lot," Ashby said. "I don't think about it anymore. It baffles me."
Some veterans contrasted the optimism they had that the U.S. could make Iraq a better place with their horror at the violence that followed.
Kayla Williams, a former Army linguist, recalled breaking down in tears after watching news reports of the 2007 terror attacks against ethnic Yazidis. She wondered if the victims were the same people who gave her tea as she talked about the virtues of democracy on her deployment during the invasion.
"The U.S. with all our intel and all our smart people, we didn't see it coming, and they suffered," said Williams, 46, who now works at Rand Corp. as a researcher.
Others find value in the lives that they saved, personal connections and the broader meaning of service.
"History can conclude that this was a tortured campaign — but it can never conclude that our people did not do the job the nation asked," Joseph Votel, a retired general who helmed U.S. Central Command from 2016 to 2019 and is a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, said in an email.
Most Americans made up their minds about the Iraq War long ago. Only 14% view the war as a success and 52% believe it was a mistake, a 2,000-person survey released Wednesday by the U.K. research group More in Common said.
Hopes for the future
Some Iraqis said they hold the U.S. responsible not only for the sectarian violence after the invasion but also for the rise of ISIS.
Ammar Rashed, a former translator, said he helped American troops target some of the country's most vicious militia leaders. Then those warlords joined the parliament that the U.S. created.
Rashed said he fled the country in 2021 after one of his co-workers disappeared.
Rashed, 39, is in Jordan. He has waited five years for a U.S. Special Immigrant Visa and is among about 100 others from Iraq with pending cases, according to the New York-based International Refugee Assistance Project.
He said his hope for a peaceful Iraq ended when U.S. troops withdrew in 2011. He once felt like he was doing the right thing helping American troops, but now he has doubts.
"I don't want to regret that I've done this," Rashed said.
Raed Ibraheim, 34, recalled the hope he felt in 2003. He approached U.S. troops on their patrols so he could practice his English.
But Ibraheim's optimism soon faded. A car bomb shattered the window of his home. He hid from a gunfight in the bushes of a playground.
Ibraheim fled Iraq in 2008 and is now a U.S. citizen. He wonders whether he ever can go home.
"It's still painful to think about," Ibraheim said.
There's a battle in Iraq for the way people remember the war, said Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, 47, a journalist from Baghdad who has reported on his country over the past two decades.
Even the term people use to describe the U.S. presence has changed over time.
"Everyone calls it an occupation right now, even the people who benefited from it," Abdul-Ahad said.
Like others in Iraq, Abdul-Ahad said he saw the U.S.-led coalition's mistakes pile up: the lack of a plan after toppling Saddam; policies that disproportionately removed Sunnis from the government and the military; the inability to bring order to the cities or prevent terrorists from crossing into the country; and war crimes like the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib.
The worst part of the past 20 years has been how American failures in nation building tarnished the concept of democracy, Abdul-Ahad said. Autocratic leaders cite what happened after 2003 as proof against reforms, and many young people wonder whether Saddam was that bad, he said.
Still, some Iraqis believe their country has improved since the U.S. invasion. It's safer than it was during Saddam's dictatorship, said Saleh al-Assadi, 41, a native of Basra in southern Iraq.
Both al-Assadi and his son, Mahdi Saleh, said they recently cheered the arrival of the Arabian Gulf Cup to Basra as a sign of normalcy.
Mahdi, 17, is a striker for his soccer team. He barely remembers the war and has hope that Iraq has a bright future.
Mahdi's right eye is missing, after a rocket attack hit his home when he was 4 years old. His father said insurgents fired the rocket, leaving shrapnel in his son's brain, chest and back. He brought Mahdi to the nearby U.S. base.
A gruff American sergeant who worked at the gate helped Mahdi receive surgery in Heidelberg, Germany, through the Mercy Corps.
That sergeant, Paul Braun, remembers the day he got a call from Germany telling him that doctors had removed the shrapnel and saved Mahdi's life.
Braun, 49, did two tours in Iraq. When he left in 2010, he thought Iraq was getting better, only for things to "go to hell," Braun said.
But he believes his service in Iraq was worth it and hopes that Americans don't forget the war.
Braun said he's always receiving calls at random hours from Mahdi and others in Iraq. He helped a translator, nicknamed Philip Morris because of his chain-smoking, get to safety in America.
He even hosted Morris for three years in his house in Minnesota.
"If we could help someone like Mahdi, if we could help someone like Philip, at least I could feel a little bit of an accomplishment from that," he said.
Iraq has better days ahead, Braun said. And one day, he hopes to come back to Iraq as a tourist and visit Mahdi in Basra.
IRS promises major improvements
LEARN HOW YOUR PLANNED GIFT CAN HELP THE AMERICAN LEGION
With the $80 billion in additional resources provided by the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has promised substantial improvements.
Nikole Flax, director of the IRS IRA 2022 Transformation and Implementation Office, indicated that the IRS has been working diligently to create a new plan for the additional funding. Flax stated, "We really are doing it with an agency-wide focus, but with a level of transparency I think we have not seen before."
The $80 billion in new funding over the next decade includes over $45 billion for enforcement, $25 billion for improved operations, approximately $5 billion for modernization of business systems – including upgrading computers and information technology – and $3.2 billion for improved taxpayer services.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen ordered the IRS to develop a complete plan for the $80 billion. That plan was due to be delivered in February, but the IRS has missed the initial deadline and claims the comprehensive plan will be sent to Yellen "in the coming weeks."
Flax explained the plan will be available to the public and stated, "We will be very transparent with taxpayers and practitioners about what we are looking to do. We are going to really hold ourselves accountable for the progress we are making. I think we all recognize that we have a credibility issue we have to address pretty quickly."
That was an admission that both the public and Congress have been unhappy with the long phone wait times for IRS customer representatives. There have also been leaks of taxpayer information and major backlogs for processing paper returns.
Flax concluded that the IRS will "work to prove that in the near term of the benefits we can deliver, because we know that for some of these areas there is a pretty big delta from where we were … last year to where we say we want to go in the next few years."
IRS Deputy National Taxpayer Advocate Bridget Roberts indicates, "the IRS is off to an incredibly strong start this filing season, in part because of the investment made into the IRS through the IRA funding." The IRS reports that as of Feb. 24 it had received 46 million tax returns and is ahead of last year in processing. Roberts noted that the tax refund total amount is 80% higher than in prior years and phone support has improved.
Roberts concluded, "Our phone service is just dramatically ahead of where it was last year and in previous years – the best we have seen in recent history. Through the first five weeks, we have consistently achieved a level of service between 80% [and] 90%."
The American Legion's Planned Giving program is a way of establishing your legacy of support for the organization while providing for your current financial needs. Learn more about the process, and the variety of charitable programs you can benefit, at legion.org/plannedgiving. Clicking on "Learn more" will bring up an "E-newsletter" button, where you can sign up for regular information from Planned Giving.
Tune in to training on Buddy Checks
The next Training Tuesday is March 28 at 7 p.m. Eastern. Join The American Legion Internal Affairs & Membership Division as they discuss the importance of Buddy Checks and how to conduct them.
Join the Training Tuesday discussion on Buddy Checks here.
As American Legion members, our most sacred responsibility is to look out for each other and our fellow veterans. Buddy Checks are our opportunity to reconnect with veterans who may need assistance but don't know where to go or who to ask. These contacts may be made by a personal visit, phone or email, or a combination. The important part is to reach out to veterans in your community to let them know you care and can provide whatever assistance they may need. It's what we do for our battle buddies.
Dallas Erdman of American Legion Post 19 in Benton, Ark., was calling post members and reached the wife of a member whose husband "served in Vietnam and was suffering from Alzheimer's and two of the Agent Orange presumptive conditions. She needed help but had no idea of who to contact," he said. "After I gave her the contact information of our (veteran service officer), I stayed in contact with her and she now has a claim in process.
A Buddy Check Toolkit is available for members and posts. It explains the program, provides steps to conducting a successful Buddy Check, gives sample scripts and more. Download it here.