The Alaska convention of the American Legion, which kicked off in Kodiak Thursday, not only drew veterans from around the state belonging to the service and fellowship organization, but has also attracted the national leadership of the Legion and its support organizations.
Attending the convention are the American Legion’s national commander, the national commander of the Sons of the American Legion, the national president of the Legion Auxiliary, and the national junior auxiliary president.
If you combine the membership that comprises these national organizations, you have nearly 4.2 million people represented.
And while Alaska is the state that has the highest number of veterans as a percentage of our population, the current American Legion national commander, Jimmie Foster, is the first leader from Alaska in the history of the organization.
“Ninety-two years, I’m the first one,” Foster said. “I’m trying to make the best of it and make sure to keep Alaska on the radar screen.”
The conference will focus this weekend on issues important to the state organization, including membership, student scholarships and veteran’s benefits.
“Membership’s the lifeblood of any organization and we’re no different,” Foster said. “Overall we’re doing great. Alaska’s doing good and we have a good attendance here.”
And of course, part of the opportunity of any statewide meeting is to meet people and exchange ideas of what is working and which challenges remain.
But the conference is just one stop for Foster, who is traveling 344 days in his year as the national commander.
Working on a national level Foster gets to aid in the lobbying efforts for veterans in Washington, D.C., including a recent meeting with President Obama.
“I told the President, ‘Please don’t balance the budget on the back of the veterans, please don’t do that,’” he said.
In addition, Foster advocated for a solution to the tremendous backlog of claims in the Department of Veteran’s Affairs, agreeing to serve on a veterans service coalition to come up with ideas to eliminate, or at least reduce, the backlog.
He also pushed for employment opportunities for veterans returning to civilian life and to get states to recognize their skills from years of military training.
“The military has paid millions of dollars to train these people,” Foster said. “When they separate from the military, the state should recognize their experience and not require them to take additional classes.”
All told, Foster has 28 years of service in the American Legion. However the opportunity to lead the organization is limited to one year. It’s a daunting task.
But considering his legacy in office, Foster says it’s the little things he’s tried to live his life by that people will remember.
“You lead by example,” Foster said. “You don’t lead by position. Never have your people do what you won’t do or haven’t done.
“You reap what you sow. Treat people the way you want to be treated. Don’t forget to say thank you.
“When I go out of office in September people will remember that more than other things,” Foster said. “They forget all of the other. They remember the little things, and little things mean a lot.”
Mirror writer Wes Hanna can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.