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Two Legionnaires named NALC Heroes of the Year

The National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC), founded in 1889 by Civil War veterans, is one of the oldest labor unions in the United States and has a membership of 280,000 – a good percentage of which are veterans themselves. Having become used to proactive thinking and readiness while in the service, it stands to reason that they carry it into their future careers. Thus, when NALC announced its 2016 Heroes of the Year honorees last September, three of the eight recipients were veterans – two of which are Legionnaires.

Patrick Byrne of Lynn, Mass., received the Education Award. The Army veteran has been working with substance-abuse addicts and their families, as well as with the local homeless population, for 10 years. His motivation is a personal one – his son fought his own 20-year battle with addiction until his passing in January 2016. Byrne's experiences have led to a new initiative, “Silent No More,” started by NALC, the U.S. Postal Service and Magellan Health Care to provide support for families going through issues with mental health, substance abuse and suicide.

“My time in the Army formed me as a leader at a young age,” Byrne says. He served from 1971 to 1974, a large part of that in Germany. “I took the word ‘service’ seriously and have always felt a responsibility to give back …. My career as a carrier was merely an extension of that, as I was able to continue servicing my community.” He recently joined The American Legion, of which he says, “I really appreciate the opportunity to stay current on issues facing veterans and the opportunity to remain informed on legislation.”

Bradley Gentz of Osage, Iowa, received the Humanitarian of the Year Award. The Army veteran started running and training for marathons a few years ago and noticed a boy on his route, Ryan, who has spina bifida and is in a wheelchair. Having seen the benefits of running and training, Gentz thought he could do the same for Ryan. After befriending the boy and his family, they started running together from 5ks to marathons.

Gentz raised $7,500 to purchase a custom-built chair that he could push Ryan in while running. The duo has been featured in Runner’s World magazine and the Running with Ryan Facebook page has the latest on their races.

“It’s been a compelling story for everyone,” Gentz says, “and a lovely time.”

Gentz spent 15 years in the military, including seven years overseas and a tour in Iraq. As a member of Post 278 in Osage, Gentz makes sure to visit the post every Veterans Day. “The Legion is near and dear to my heart,” he says.

Michael Murphy of Florissant, Mo., received the Central Region Hero of the Year Award. On Oct. 28, 2014, the Marine Corps veteran and Navy reservist was on the scene when a man with a cinder block started going after nearby cars – and the people inside them. Murphy took the lead in subduing the man until the police could get there; it turned out to have been part of a carjacking attempt.

“I feel that my military training came into play when I had to evaluate the situation quickly and make a decision to ‘stay in the fight,’” Murphy says. “My self-defense and close-combat training came into play. And I felt that as a leader I had a responsibility to take action.”

The story of 'Mr. DeMarathon'

Earlier this week, Kenyan Geoffrey Kirui won the 2017 running of the Boston Marathon. But 87 years ago, a record that has yet to be broken was set: Clarence DeMar won his seventh Boston Marathon.

Running enthusiasts and historians likely know that fact, as well as that DeMar ran in three U.S. Olympics, earning a bronze medal in the men’s marathon in Paris in 1924.

Some may know that early on in his running career DeMar was diagnosed with a heart murmur and advised to give up running. But even fewer probably know that DeMar was a Legionnaire, a life member of Melrose Post 30 in Massachusetts. Or that he was a Sunday school teacher and dedicated to volunteering with the Boy Scouts of America.

Born in 1888, DeMar didn’t take up distance running until 1909 but managed to finish second in the Boston Marathon in 1910. A year later he won his first Boston Marathon.

After a 12th-place finish in the 1912 Olympics, he took the advice of doctors and took a break from running. He took extension courses from Harvard and Boston University while working as a printer.

He got back into running marathons in 1917 and finished third in Boston, but a short time later he was drafted into the U.S. Army. According to a 1927 American Legion Monthly article, DeMar served with the Army of Occupation and was shifted to an athletic detachment.

DeMar ran a few races while in the Army, but after his discharge from service in 1919 he went back to his job as a printer and didn’t take part in any races for two years. But when a sleet storm hit Boston in 1921 and DeMar was unable to ride his bicycle to work, which was his normal routine, he decided to run instead.

Running back and forth to work each day, DeMar realized he could still run long distances and began training for the Boston Marathon. Amazingly, he won the race in 1922 – the first of three straight victories in the nation’s oldest marathon. He followed with wins in 1927, 1928 and then his final one, at age 41, in 1930.

DeMar would still run until late in life, competing in 33 Boston Marathons – his final at age 65. He succumbed to cancer in 1958 at age 70. Forty-two years later he was inducted into the National Distance Running Hall of Fame. And in Keene, N.H., the Clarence DeMar marathon has been run since 1978 in his honor.

A post's service rewarded

For more than a year, members of Johnston-Blessman Post 38 in Wisconsin had the cloud of a six-figure debt hanging over their heads. The town of Grand Chute had assessed the post a bill of more than $100,000 to pay for road improvements on West College Avenue, a road the post resides on but does not use.

The original bill was for $114,966, though the actual job ended up costing just over $103,000. Payment was due May 1, leaving Post 38 in a jam. It had just spent more than 10 years paying off a similar bill of $65,000 for improvements to Bluemound Drive, on which the post also resides. Not paying the current bill off in time would have resulted in being charged steep interest rates.

"It was panic mode," Post 38 Adjutant Laurel Clewell said. "We were all trying to figure out how we could possibly (pay the bill). We thought we might have to close. At one point we thought there was no way it was going to happen."

But it did happen, thanks to incredible community support for a post that has meant so much to its community. It addition to regular community flag retirement ceremonies, Post 38 also awards $6,000 yearly in college scholarships, provides flag donations and flag etiquette lessons to local schools, puts on egg hunts and Christmas parties for low-income families, and lets other community organizations use its property for their fundraisers.

The post also has a big presence in the annual Appleton Flag Day Parade and last year was invited to 14 Veterans Day events, attending as many of those (nine) as it could.

The post's efforts in its community obviously have been noticed. After local media reported on Post 38's dilemma, donations began to pour in, and post members also were able to get other community members and organizations to match their donations.

"We had one gentleman come in and give us a $25,000 check," Clewell said. "His brother used to be a member of our post, and he had died and left him money. He said he wanted to give it right back to us, to the veterans. I just wanted to cry."

Attendance at the post's fundraisers spiked. A local band donated time at the post's annual corn roast. "Our corn roast usually makes like $2,500," Clewell said. "We were way up around $12,000. The community stepped up so large."

The post ended up raising $112,000 and with the leftover money was able to put in a new air conditioner at the post that had been needed for more than a year.

"We're just looking at things in a different light now," Clewell said. "We just had a lot of people do some really good things. It's amazing how dedicated they are to helping veterans. The community stepped up large, and we are so grateful."

Clewell believes the post's image in the community made the effort so successful. "I think a lot of people relate The American Legion to good," she said. "They see that we're not in it for us. I think people understand that we're a good organization. You could see it when they came through (the post). They were all thanking us for our service, throwing $5 in the bucket or $10 in the bucket. All of that added up. It was awesome."

Plan ahead for these upcoming career events

Here’s a look at some upcoming career events and transition summits for veterans, servicemembers and military spouses:

April 27: Joint Base Andrews. 10 a.m.-2 p.m. job fair and free resume seminars. You must have a common access card or military ID for base access. If not, then to obtain access to the base, send full name, birthday, drivers license number, expiration date and state registered via email to or call (434) 263-5102 or (540) 226-1473 with info no later than one week prior to the event. The Club at Andrews, 1889 Arnold Avenue, Joint Base Andrews, Md.

May 2-4: Fort Campbell Transition Summit. Tuesday: 9 a.m.-4 p.m., industry sector briefings for job seekers; 4-6 p.m., networking reception. Wednesday: 9 a.m.-noon, job seeker workshops and opening ceremony; 1-4 p.m., Hiring Our Heroes hiring fair. Thursday: 9 a.m., hiring fair. Personnel Processing Center Building, Hedge Row Road and 4th Street, Campbell Army Airfield, Fort Campbell, Ky.

May 2-3: Marine Corps Base Quantico Military Spouse Career Event. Tuesday: 5:30-8:30 p.m., networking reception and Arts in the Armed Forces performance. Wednesday: 10 a.m.-1 p.m., hiring fair. The Clubs at Quantico and Crossroads Events Center: Quantico Station, 3017 Russell Road, Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va.

Follow the links for full details and keep tabs on upcoming career fairs at

POW/MIA Flag: 'Mission accomplished'


Over the course of four years, Legionnaire William “Sarge” Garlitz made what he thinks is around 15 trips back and forth from his home in Ocean City, Md., to Annapolis -- roughly 116 miles each way. The reason: to urge the Maryland General Assemby to pass legislation that would fly the POW-MIA flag above the Maryland State Building and all other state buildings, with a few minors expeceptions, that fly the U.S. flag.

Recently, Garlitz saw his efforts pay off. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan signed into law legislation that will do just what the Synepuxent Post 166 Legionnaire has been seeking for so many years.

“(The POW-MIA flag) flies over the White House six times a year, and it’s the only flag that’s ever flown over the White House other than the American flag,” said Garlitz, a former post commander and 51-year Legionnaire. “I just thought that this flag should be flown here so that Maryland wants to send a message that we’re not going to forget the unaccounted (servicemembers).”

Garlitz previously had convinced former Baltimore Mayor Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake to fly the POW-MIA flag over the Baltimore Convention Center during The American Legion’s 2015 National Convention.

“I told her that the message would be given out that Baltimore does not forget the POWs and (MIAs),” Garlitz said. “We got a lot of comments on it. It was flying right outside that door. It looked good.”

For years the proposed state legislation remained stuck in committee. “Once I get my teeth into something, I don’t give up,” Garlitz said.

Garlitz repeatedly testified in front of House and Senate committees wearing his Legion cap. He also worked with state legislators and praised State Sen. James Mathias Jr. and State Delegate Teresa Reilly for their efforts in gaining passage of the legislation. “(Mathias) never gave up on us,” Garlitz said. “And (Reilly) was very, very instrumental in the House.”

Finding out the legislation passed unanimously in both chambers was special for Garlitz. “”It was a feeling like … a weight off my shoulders,” Garlitz said. “It was like you won a ballgame in overtime, and you had whatever it took to make the victory work.

“It was your mind being at ease and saying ‘mission accomplished.’”

To view Garlitz's testimony to the Maryland House of Delegates, click here. To view Legion testimony to the Maryland State Senate, click here.

Post 73’s Bucks for Books program a success with youth

During the month of March, several American Legion family members of Post 73 in Enterprise, Ala., spent their Thursday afternoons at the local YMCA. While there, they sat one-on-one with youth ages 8 to 12 to hear recaps on books that they read and to help them write book reports. It was all part of Post 73’s Bucks for Books program.

The program encouraged youth in the YMCA’s afterschool program to read up to four books a week that were age-appropriate and to complete an oral and written report with help from a Post 73 volunteer (Legion, Auxiliary or Legion Rider member). The children were awarded $2 per book, a special completion certificate and an ice cream social on April 6 where Legion, Auxiliary and Legion Riders from the post were all in attendance.

“I believe this is one of the most worthwhile programs that we have tried,” said Iris Keen, a Unit 73 member. “It’s about teaching these kids that they can always read and learn and explore through reading. That’s our goal … to help the kids get excited about reading.”

The concept for the Bucks for Books program was shared by Post 73 member Elaine Roberts, who had been invovled with the same program with another organization. Post 73 chose to launch the four-week program with the YMCA in March with an April celebration event since April is the Legion’s Children & Youth Month and the Month of the Military Child – several youth in the YMCA’s afterschool program are military children. When post members went to the YMCA to introduce the program to the children, those interested were required to have parents sign a consent form since the volunteers would be working one-on-one with them.

YMCA After School Camp and Summer Camp Director Felicia Holley said every Thursday the children were excited to see the Legion family members, which “meant a lot for me to hear because you don’t always see kids getting into reading, especially after they have been in school all day. It was good to see them excited about something educational, and it taught them responsibility – they had to work for the ($2).”

Buddy Keen, Post 73 commander and Iris’s husband, said the children enjoyed telling the Legion volunteers about the books as much as they enjoyed hearing about them. “It was difficult to tell who was having the best time – the Legion volunteers or the children,” he said. “The children, the volunteers and the YMCA employees all agreed that the Bucks for Books program was a great success.”

Iris agreed about the excitement shared by all.

“It was exciting to see their enthusiasm and their expression when explaining their book reports to us,” she said. Iris had a young boy who said his book was about an elephant that had an extra-long trunk to blow out of and the elephant blew the scales off fish and feathers off birds. “His eyes would just light up and he would just smile,” Iris said. “When I asked if he was telling the truth, he turned right to the pages where this happened.”

Iris and Buddy said they plan to conduct the Bucks for Books program again at the start of the next school year. “We hope it grows because I think children can teach themselves an awful lot by reading,” Iris said.

“We realize that our future is our children,” Buddy said.

Holley, and the children, would be grateful if Post 73 conducts the program again.

“It was an awesome experience for me to get to work with (The American Legion), and I know the kids loved it. Seeing them excited made me excited,” she said. “I hope they do it again, and I know the kids hope they come back.”

Legion invites veterans in Alaska to discuss VA care

The American Legion invites all Anchorage, Alaska, veterans and their family members to a town hall meeting to discuss their VA care.

The meeting will be held at 7 p.m. on Monday, May 1, 2017, at Northland VFW Post 10252, 3105 Mountain View Drive in Anchorage.

The town hall event is one of about a dozen that the Legion will conduct around the United States this year. The Legion hosts these events to hear feedback from veterans about the quality of health care they receive at their local VA facility.

Representatives from The American Legion Department of Alaska, The American Legion National Headquarters office in Washington, D.C., VA and members of the Alaska congressional delegation will be in attendance.



Legion donates custom-fitted bike to Iraq veteran

Clifford Benton, an injured Iraq Army veteran from Florence, S.C., wanted a road bike for his rehabilitation therapy and for recreational use. His physical therapist at the Williams Jennings Bryan Dorn VA Medical Center agreed; however, the problem was finding a bike that fit Benton’s 6-foot-7-inch frame.

Benton contacted The American Legion for assistance, and on April 15 the organization’s Operation Comfort Warriors program donated a custom-fit bike to Benton to aid in his recovery.

“We do everything we can to make sure our veterans get what they need,” said Walt Richardson, Department of South Carolina vice commander and Legion Rider who helped present the bike to Benton at Post 1 in Florence. “When we have a veteran that needs something, we do it.”

Richardson was one of nearly 20 Legion Riders who escorted the bike – which was carried in one of the department’s vehicles – from Columbia to Florence, about 100 miles one way. Upon arrival to Post 1, dozens of other Legion family members and Legion Riders from as far as Myrtle Beach, Conway and Rockhill joined in on the donation.

“I would not have missed the donation. It was a rewarding experience,” Richardson said.

Once Benton was presented the bike he took off his boots, jumped on the bike and rode it around the home of Post 1. The custom bike was built by Outspokin Bicycles in Columbia and features a carbon-fiber reinforced frame to support Benton’s height

“He was extremely grateful that he could get this bike,” Richardson said. “He was courteous and polite; he is a fine southern boy.”

Besides the bike donation, Post 1 paid for Benton’s first year of Legion membership.

“He is quite a guy and we are delighted to have him as a member,” said Post 1 Commander Don Handley. “I think he is going to make a really good member.”

3 reasons veterans hate networking and what to do about it


By Lida Citroën

Networking is challenging for the best of us. Even the most extroverted people wrestle with initiating new relationships and extracting value from their contacts. While the concept of networking may have seemed unnecessary in the military, in your civilian career it will be critical.

Unlike our social relationships, networking in the civilian world should be viewed in an intentional and strategic way. If you approach networking as a focused meeting of your target audience in an authentic way in order to nurture mutually beneficial professional relationships, then networking becomes a very valuable part of your transition, and civilian career. After all, you never know who you are about to meet – that new contact could be the key that unlocks your future!

Here are a few of the reasons people dislike networking and how to overcome them:

1. Fear of rejection

It’s natural to view networking as making yourself vulnerable to a complete outsider. Approaching a stranger brings up our insecurities and fears of rejection and criticism. What if they walk away or reject my email? Will they laugh at me or see me as weak?

When someone approaches us to initiate a conversation, most of us will listen to what they say. If the initiator is genuine, it is very rare that a stranger will outright reject them. And even if they do, move on and shake the next hand or send the next email. You are going places, probably higher than that person if they have such a chip on their shoulder, so in the long run it is their loss.

2. Being unprepared

If you go to a job fair or networking reception unprepared and uninformed, you deserve to be fearful. Avoid this situation altogether and instead research the people you would like to meet. Find them online and read their profiles to see what they have done and whether you can find any similar interests that you could use as an in. What recent milestones or successes could you use as icebreakers to start a conversation? What have they done that you may want to try, such as a specific course, that you could ask their advice on? Have an idea of the topics you want to discuss and how you would like the conversation to go.

That person may be just as interested in you as you are in him or her. Practice your elevator pitch, so that when they ask about your interests, you can sell yourself and tell a clear story of who you are and what your aspirations are.

3. Failing to follow up

After you exchange business cards and say goodbye to a new contact, take a moment to write a note on the back of their card about the conversation. Then, when you email them as follow up, you can reference your discussion and any next steps. We are often afraid that we will forget a detail and embarrass ourselves, but if you do your homework and take notes, this should not be a concern. View their LinkedIn profile again to see where you might have common interests and experiences. Send an invitation to connect online and continue the conversation. Be sure to personalize the invitation to connect by referring to where you met and what you discussed.

Networking is not easy for most people. It takes practice to project confidence and remain genuine and relatable while meeting strangers who could impact your future. As you become an effective networker, you will learn to be more intentional and focused in the professional relationships you develop to aid and grow your career.

Seabees celebrate 75 years of successes

They have played a significant role in storming the beaches at Normandy, building a nuclear power plant in Antarctica and supporting the ongoing war on terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan.

As the Seabees celebrate their 75th anniversary, much of their work toward providing national security, alleviating humanitarian crises and responding to natural disasters goes unnoticed by a large percentage of the American public.

However, “There is not a military person who’s been around the Seabees who cannot tell a story about what the Seabees did for them to make their lives better,” said Bill Hilderbrand, president of the CEC/Seabees Historical Foundation. “Anybody who has been in the military knows the value that comes with them everywhere they go.”

Hilderbrand is a retired captain who worked with the Seabees during his second tour of Vietnam and was later the commanding officer of the Seabees unit in Gulfport, Miss. The Seabees he worked with built countless barracks for the Marine Corps and Army, created aircraft protection barriers, installed security fences, put in culverts and more.

“The story of the Seabees is an amazing one,” Hilderbrand said. “Everybody thinks of the military primarily as of people fighting. The Seabees primary tool is not a gun. They are not an offensive unit. One of the things they take pride in is that when they leave a place, it is better than when they arrived. And that’s their job. They are not doing it for themselves. They are doing it for everybody else. If they go into a war zone and there is nothing there, they have to clear the jungle, or the beaches, to build runways.”

Adm. Ben Moreell conceived and received approval to start the Seabees in the wake of the Pearl Harbor attack. Their primary mission was to build bases for airfields and ports all across the ocean.

“Our leadership determined that it could not be done with civilian engineers and construction men,” said Rear Adm. Bret Muilenburg, commander of the Naval Facilities Engineering Command and Chief of Civil Engineers. “We needed people who could not only engineer, but could fight, if necessary for these projects. We armed our construction men, gave them military training, and then formed them into units called construction battalions.”

And that’s how the name arose — construction battalions, CBs for short, or the phonetic, Seabees.

The Seabees have played a role in every U.S. conflict since World War II, from getting equipment and supplies ashore during the Normandy landings to providing support during the Inchon landing during the Korean War to building and defending bridges and encampments during Vietnam and contributing to the war efforts and humanitarian missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“The largest base we ever built was Diego Garcia in the 1970s where for quite a number of years we built a communications base from scratch, a runway, some piers, storage facility, logistics – everything you need to run a base,” Muilenburg said. “That’s one of our proud legacies.”

In the 1950s, the Seabees launched one of the most unusual chapters in their history in Antarctica. “Called Operation Deep Freeze, the Seabees built the U.S. camp there and manned it, including building a nuclear power plant at the time,” Muilenburg said. “We are very proud of that history.”

Muilenburg pointed out how the Seabees have kept to their original mission of national defense while broadening it.

“We have an interesting role in security cooperation,” he said, noting that such humanitarian assistance has increased. “In the past year alone, we have completed joint projects with 20 other nations where we do work for local villages, often schools or medical facilities. That is all about working together, building friendships and helping local people, creating a larger security environment that benefits all of us.”

Today’s Seabees have also played vital roles in natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina, Superstorm Sandy, earthquakes in Haiti and Pakistan, and the Indonesia tsunami. Seabees clear the roads and ensure downed wires and damaged buildings are safe, allowing first responders to fulfill their mission.

“Seabees have these kinds of skills,” Muilenburg said. “They are problem-solvers and have the equipment to make them efficient. In addition, our Seabees are forward deployed and timing is of the essence. People need help so you want to get there as fast as you can, often faster than local authorities.”

Today’s Seabees are a mix of Navy recruits and others who were engineers and builders who became Navy reserves. “When we deploy for a real-world operation, a mix is best — young, active-duty folks and more experience reserve folks. Put them together and there is nothing they can’t do.”

Just like the Seabees of World War II, the current Seabees rally around their motto, “Can do.”

When Henry Harbinson joined the Navy in 1946, he wasn’t familiar with the Seabees. But he soon embraced the Seabee way, serving in Alaska, Guam, Taipan and elsewhere. A high school dropout, Harbinson went back to school after his service and also graduated from college.

“I’ve had a number of great accomplishments in life, and I credit those to all that I learned in training in the Seabees,” he said.

Harbinson did various work with the Seabees, such as setting up hundreds of phone lines to keep bases in good communication.

“I am not afraid of any challenge because I know that I can do it,” said Harbinson, a member of The American Legion. “I think if you run into a problem, you will stick to it until you find the answer. It will be done right and you won’t have any problems done with it. That all goes back to my Seabee training.”

During their 75th anniversary, the Seabees will hold celebration events from coast to coast. On April 18, a plaque was dedicated at the Missouri History Museum in St. Louis, and will later be on permanent display at the Soldiers Museum, which will reopen in November 2018.

About 100 people, including Seabees, their families, American Legion members and senior Navy leaders, attended the plaque dedication and to honor Adm. Ben Moreell.

P.M. Kurre and his daughter, R.P. Kurre — both Seabee veterans and members of American Legion Post 158 in Jackson, Mo. — attended the dedication. “It’s really wonderful,” P.M. Kurre said. “It’s a great way to honor Admiral Moreell. He could do things that no one else could do. He was a great leader.”

Born in Salt Lake City, Moreell moved to St. Louis as a child, graduating from Washington University and working as a civil engineer in his hometown. When World War II broke out, he conceived the idea for the Seabees and received approval from Navy leadership to proceed.

“The Navy already had a big program in the Pacific to build bases in preparation if war broke out,” Hilderbrand said. “When war was declared, we had to pull those troops back out and Admiral Moreell realized that all of those bases had to be finished and a lot more had to be built.”

Moreell’s plan led to 325,000 Seabees participating in World War II.

For 75 years, the Seabees have been building and fighting, carrying out America’s missions across the world.

“It’s something we should be proud of,” Muilenburg said. “We should honor them, remember what they did and why they did it and how they did it. The book of the Seabees hasn’t been fully written yet. For us to know how to write the next chapters, it is important for us to understand our history and how we got to where we are.”

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