2014 Banquet

American Legion News

Register now for 100th Anniversary Workshop

Hundreds of American Legion posts have already fulfilled centennial profile pages on the Centennial Celebration website at and hundreds more are expected to add to the organization’s new platform celebrating 100 years of legacy and vision.

The American Legion 100th Anniversary Observance Committee is offering a free workshop Aug. 25 at the 96th National Convention in Charlotte to help members get involved in the coming celebration. The workshop will be held from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. and from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. in Room 203, Sections A & B, Charlotte Convention Center. All Legionnaires and Legion family members are welcome to participate. Pre-registration is not required but is recommended.

Register for the 100th Anniversary Workshop online here.

Among the facilitators of the workshop is Robert Ferrebee of Post 41 in Berryville, Va., who will discuss how he assembled and shared his post’s centennial profile, and the ways in which an exciting centennial program can build awareness and membership in The American Legion. See his story here.

The workshop and the centennial profiles are early steps in a commemoration program that will build momentum in the coming years, as the Legion nears its 2018-2019 centennial window. Dozens of activities, products, events and media opportunities are scheduled in a five-year strategic plan that kicks off in earnest in 2015.

American Legion, AMVETS and CVA Joint Statement on $17.6 Billion VA Spending Request

Today, The American Legion, AMVETS (American Veterans), and Concerned Veterans for America (CVA) released the following statement regarding congressional posturing resulting from a request made by acting Secretary of Veterans Affairs Sloan Gibson for an additional $17.6 billion in funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs:

“Regardless of the merits, a last-minute VA request for $17.6 billion dollars in additional spending only hampers an already difficult VA conference committee negotiating process. Both the House and Senate VA reform bills that passed were centered on two things – accountability and access. It is disgraceful and utterly painful to see bipartisan efforts erode and lawmakers lose sight of what’s important. Negotiations, which should happen in public, not behind closed doors, must stay focused on ensuring VA leadership is held accountable and veterans have timely access to care. All other discussions only undermine a critically important process.

“We urge Congress to take immediate action to regain its focus on ensuring the VA Secretary exercises his authority to hold management and staff accountable for their inappropriate behavior, and immediately stop the corruption and mismanagement within the VA. Before asking for more money, the VA must start making good on the nation’s promise to its honored veterans.”

Boys Nation senators visit the Hill

The Hart, Dirksen and Russell senate office buildings witnessed a small army of teenagers wearing blue polos scurrying through halls, up and down stairwells, and into senators’ offices on July 24. The 98 American Legion Boys Nation senators descended upon a center of political power on Capitol Hill, eager to meet their counterparts serving in the U.S. Senate.

Many of the Boys Nation senators shared thoughts about their visits with those who shoulder a large part of constitutional responsibility and authority for governing America.

Matthew Heery of Colorado said, “Sen. Mark Udall was very personable, and he wanted to know what we’re doing at Boys Nation and what we’ve learned so far. I feel that (the U.S. senators) are more concerned about our nation than what we actually give them credit for.”

Heery said in the past he’s thought of the Senate as inefficient, often agreeing with the public opinion “that Congress isn’t doing enough, but I still do believe that they’re keeping our nation a safe place. We’re not a country like Syria, we’re not Egypt, we’re not an anarchy. We have to give them at least some credit for that – keeping the nation stable.”

Udall has a lot of respect for the Boys Nation program, said Travis Gudenrath of Colorado. “He loves it whenever we come in because we come in polite and with (U.S.) flags.” After meeting with Udall, Gudenrath sees “the much more personable side of Congress. We often see them as this large, legislative body – kind of like this germ-like amoeba mass – that just produces bills and that we get frustrated with, and we forget that they’re individual people, too."

When Gudenrath first got involved with Colorado's Boys State program, he didn’t think there was going to be much to it, “but it is a multi-tiered, deep program," he said. "There’s so much more than just the surface of politics. It encourages patriotism, Americanism, it encourages brotherhood and camaraderie, it encourages mutual respect and understanding, how to become an adult, how to become a true American – a solid, dependable man of God.”

Jefferson Manning and Hayden Kingfisher of Louisiana said their meeting with Sen. David Vitter was brief but “he gave me some insight of what I need to do to get to the next level of politics if I wished to do so," Manning said. "He said to keep trying and, no matter what, just don’t give up. You won’t win every time, but if you keep trying, hopefully you’ll win more than you lose, and that’s how you get to where you need to be.

“What (U.S. senators) are debating is real-life stuff and it’s real taxpayer dollars on the line and real citizens’ affairs.”

During his visit with Vitter, Kingfisher took away “the infrastructure of his office, there’s just so much going on," he said. His desire to go into law and politics was reinforced by his meeting with Vitter.

The legislative process at Boys Nation is important, Kingfisher said, but the bills passed “are never going to affect you personally. When you come in here, you find bills that are going to affect your life directly – they really are steering your life.”

Manning said he couldn’t thank The American Legion enough for the Boys Nation program. Not only does it teach students how government operates, “it also teaches you character, how to be a real gentleman, and what you need in and outside of the office," he said. "That’s something that not every organization can give you.”

The visit paid by the Boys Nation Class of 1963 made a real impression on Kingfisher. “Looking at that picture of Bill Clinton shaking John F. Kennedy’s hand was amazing because you think, ‘I’m here, that’s what I’m doing right now. It’s the same exact thing that President Clinton had the opportunity to do,'" he said. “I’m extremely thankful to The American Legion for giving us that opportunity to be here and sharing that experience.”

Isaac Nelson and Dyllan Almeida of Massachusetts weren’t able to speak with Sen. Ed Markey, but his staff assistant, Grace Ogilby, was available. “She gave us advice on how to handle bills we’ve put forth in the Boys Nation senate,” Almeida said.

Before coming to the nation’s capital, Nelson thought Congress didn’t get much done, “but after going through the senate sessions of Boys Nation, experiencing the debates and seeing some bills fail because compromises were not made,” and hearing Ogilby explain the U.S. Senate’s legislative process, he has a higher opinion of the country’s lawmakers. “The senators want to pass more laws, but they just can’t get through as much as they’d like to," Nelson said.

“They’re very helpful and they do mean good,” Almeida said. “I know a lot of people think the (House) and the Senate don’t really function, but everyone means good. They try to do what their supporters want them to do, and they’re doing a very good job of it.”

Ryan Paulekas of Connecticut and Andrew Lake of Idaho sat in on a hearing by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and speak to staff in the committee’s office.

Lake said the committee was discussing the situation in Iraq and terrorists who have taken control of some territory. “You could tell the (senators) were a little annoyed because they didn’t get too much information” from the Department of Defense and State Department representatives.

Not surprisingly, Paulekas said, some of the hearing “was heated in a lot of ways.” One witness ended up “getting railed by the committee” because one member said “he had read an article in the (New York) Times that gave more information than she had.” Her response was that the senator should not “gauge his information from a news article.”

One committee staffer explained to them that, even though a lot of information was not forthcoming from the day’s hearing, all U.S. senators have top-secret clearances and they often get much more information from sessions closed to the public.

After seeing the committee in action, Lake said, “I’ve never been more determined to become a (U.S.) senator. I’ve always wanted to be a governor, then a senator and maybe president some day. But after this, I definitely want to be a senator.” The hearing didn’t seem “as scripted as Congress seems sometimes, and it wasn’t so much partisan as it was honestly trying to figure out what’s going on in the situation and how best to handle it.”

Paulekas said the Boys Nation program “has given me faith in the political process. I used to think that these guys aren’t getting anything done because they all hate each other. It’s not necessarily so, and I felt that maybe the entire Congress itself, when it's in session, that’s where the deadlock begins. But in this committee, it appeared they were getting a lot done.

“Even though we think that they don’t know what they’re doing, they probably have a pretty good grasp on how the country is and where they think they can take it.” Paulekas said the first thing he will do when he gets back home is join the Sons of The American Legion; several of his family members are U.S. Army veterans.

“I never really understood how much it really meant to serve until I talked to members of The American Legion – these men who actually served in combat zones and fought,” Paulekas said. “To really see what being a member of the service means to them, and what service to their country means to them, meant so much to me that I just want to go home and be a part of it.”

“There are so many veterans who have served in the military,” Lake said, “and there are so many out there that people are hoping will come back. The American Legion gives a lot of people hope."

Michael Chizek of Iowa got to meet both senators from his state: Tom Harkin and Chuck Grassley. After a photo opportunity, Chizek said that Grassley answered questions about his biggest challenges, such as “finding ways to work with everybody in Congress," Chizek said. "There’s a lot of different personalities and a lot of different ways people operate. But he’s very happy with the career he’s had.”

Grassley also encouraged Chizek to consider a future internship in his office. The visit with Harkin was more brief “because he had to get back for a roll-count vote," Chizek said. "But he met us on the steps of the Senate, and he told us that one of his greatest accomplishments was helping to pass the Americans with Disabilities Act – he’s super-proud of that.” As he spoke with Harkin, Chizek saw Vice President Joe Biden drive by in a motorcade.

“(Boys Nation has) been an incredible ride," Chizek said. "I wasn’t sure what to expect when I got here, but you can have a conversation with somebody from anywhere in the country and get to know them, get to know their views.” Having never been to Washington before, “this was really eye-opening to see our nation’s monuments and our nation’s leaders.”

 

Pentagon briefs Boys Nation on national defense issues

A three-star Air Force general with more than three decades of military experience met with Boys Nation senators on July 23 in the Pentagon Press Briefing Room. Lt. Gen. Mark F. Ramsay, the Joint Chief of Staff’s director of force structure, resources and assessment, gave the 98 high school students a succinct overview of the Department of Defense (DoD).

Before his current assignment, Ramsay commanded the 18th Air Force at Scott Air Force Base in St. Clair County, Ill. He previously served with Headquarters U.S. European Command, Headquarters U.S. Air Force, and North Atlantic Treaty Organization Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe.

Ramsay welcomed the senators and thanked The American Legion, saying, “I am looking forward to joining your ranks.”

He said the Pentagon is “the world’s largest Fortune 500 company” that supports “the world’s premiere military force.” DoD’s annual budget is about $500 billion, Ramsay said, part of which pays three million employees (about 2.2 million are active duty, reserve or National Guard).

After explaining the DoD leadership structure and how the Joint Chiefs of Staff operates, Ramsay turned to what is happening now in DoD. “Our fiscal house is not good,” which means the department faces up to a 20 percent reduction in spending. As a result, force structure will be reduced by about 250,000 people, more Navy ships will be retired and more Air Force squadrons will be deactivated. “We have to trim modernization, and our readiness has gone down somewhat.”

Turning to a review of world news, Ramsay ticked off the wars, hostilities and potential enemies that pose – or may pose – a threat to America: the Afghanistan War, the latest Hamas-Israeli fight in Gaza, instability between Syria and Iraq, Russia’s annexation of the Crimea, the shooting down of aircraft by pro-Russian separatists, Chinese aggression in the Pacific, North Korea’s rogue regime, and Iran’s nuclear program.

“It’s a pretty difficult landscape,” Ramsay said, “and then you throw in the cyber-dimension.” Cyber-warfare is ascendant in the 21st century, and internet/cell phone technology has empowered terrorists groups around the planet.

Ramsay then asked for questions from the Boys Nation senators.

Adam Fortier-Brown of Randolph, Maine, asked what the greatest military threat that America will face is. Ramsay said that when he joined the military in 1982, there was one major threat to the United States: the Soviet Union. “That threat vaporized before you were born," he said. "Now we have to deal with much more; it is a far more complex scenario.”

Andrew Morrison of Dover, Del., asked Ramsay how he rose in the Air Force ranks to become a three-star general. “We call it ‘bloom where you are planted,’" he replied. “And the rest is all luck.”

Discussing ways in which DoD could become more efficient in the age of budget cuts, Ramsay said, “You name it and we have cut it – about $350 billion so far for the next 10 years.” He said a lot more conferences are held via Skype these days.

Joseph Walker of Alaska asked about DoD’s relationship with the National Security Agency in combating terrorism. “NSA (National Security Agency) looks for nefarious characters and the president has a lot of tools in his toolbox to deal with them,” Ramsay said. Those tools include the NSA, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Central Intelligence Agency, and Armed Forces assets such as Special Forces. “We’re one cog in a big wheel. We do what the politicians tell us to do.”

Reed Johnson of Dickinson, N.D., said he was applying to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., and wondered what his role would be in a military force that is shrinking. “Your role is not going to change – the force size will be changing," said Ramsay. "But there will be even more opportunities for you, in cyber and space warfare.”

Ramsay said the United States has a “passive agreement with the rest of the world that space would be peaceful,” except for China. “So that is the challenge.” He said the cyberworld belongs essentially to the NSA, but DoD has a working relationship with them in that arena, as well. He said that cyberspace and outer space will both be “big domains” in warfare of the future.

Visit www.legion.org/legiontv/boysnation for more videos or www.legion.org/photos/boysnation for more photo galleries from Boys Nation.

'Broken promises, pain, mistreatment, delays'

During the past six weeks, American Legion staff has teamed up with local Legionnaires and Departments of Veterans Affairs employees in conducting Veterans Crisis Command Centers in five cities. At these centers, veterans get to meet face to face with Legion service officers and representatives from the Veterans Health Administration and Veterans Benefits Administration.

More than 2,000 veterans have come to these centers for help. And many of those, the Legion’s Verna Jones told the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs today, have tragic stories to tell.

“I’m deeply saddened,” said Jones, the Legion’s Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation director. “The American Legion is saddened. We’ve listened to veterans and widows and children who, one by one, told their stories of broken promises, pain, mistreatment, delay and, yes, even death. Many of them – full of hurt, anger, confusion and uncertainty – just wanted to be heard.

“They’ve told their stories many times, but their pleas fell on deaf ears. The American Legion listened, because what they had to say matters. We wanted to help. It’s woven into the very fabric of who we are.”

Jones, who has been to all five crisis centers, told of a homeless veteran who spent his last $40 on a cab to the center in Fort Collins, Colo., to get help. In Phoenix, a 70-year-old widow was reduced to sleeping in gas station bathrooms because VA couldn’t get her claim right.

“She came to us in tears,” Jones said. “We were able to put her in front of the VA and get the errors fixed on the spot in our crisis center.

“I talked to a veteran in North Carolina who had been working on his claim for 14 years. As he left the crisis center he said, ‘I can’t believe it took me 90 minutes to fix 14 years.’”

Jones said she’s read letters from VA’s Office of the Special Counsel that reference “harmless errors” that include a veteran waiting more than eight years for a psychiatric appointment. “We have veterans taking their own lives 22 a day here in America, and it’s a harmless error that a veteran has to wait eight years for an appointment?” she asked.

Jones said that those who become whistleblowers within VA should be put in positions of leadership “so they can set the model for the people who work for them. You can clear out some room for them by getting rid of the ones who covered up veterans waiting for care so they could earn a little extra money every year.”

Jones said the Legion wants to fix VA – not tear it down – and that opinion is shared with many other veterans.

"I talked to veterans in every city who has a VA – a place that belongs to them – and want the doctors who understand their service and understand their needs,” she said. “When The American Legion says VA has a problem with access, with accuracy (and) with leadership, we don’t want to throw out the VA. We want to fix it.”

Jones again referenced the homeless veteran who spent his last $40 to get to a Legion crisis center.

“The system was supposed to take care of him,” she said. "He was broke, he felt broken, and he felt lost. He arrived after the crisis center had closed for that day, slept at a nearby gas station and walked to the crisis center the next morning. He was at his wits end. This was do or die for him.

“We were able work with VA to get him placed into a supportive housing program and receive the services he desperately needed. The (Legion) chairman for Veteran Affairs & Rehabilitation for The American Legion was so moved (that) he reimbursed the $40 the veteran spent to get there because we truly believe no veteran should have to pay for services they have already paid for by virtue of their honorable service. That’s what we want for veterans – the benefits they deserve. They shouldn’t have to get down to their last $40 to get there.”

Following her testimony, Jones was asked what advice she had for Robert McDonald, who has been nominated to take over as VA secretary. "Transparency, so things like this scandal don't happen again," she said. She was also asked if she though VA's budget needed an independent budget; Jones said yes, if it ensure every resource was being used to care for veterans.

The hearing also featured testimony from acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson, as well as other veterans service organizations.

To read Jones' submitted testimony, click here.

National Security report - 7/18/14
1. Defense Budget US senators want to slash the Pentagon’s information technology (IT) spending plan by tens of millions, calling on the military to trim duplicative programs. The Obama administration requested about $11 billion for all Defense Department information technology activities next year. In a report accompanying its 2015 military spending bill, the Senate Appropriations Defense subcommittee proposes several sizable cuts. The Pentagon requested $87.2 million for enterprise information technology activities. The Senate bill, set to be approved late Thursday morning by the full Appropriations Committee, proposes cutting that by $15 million, to $72.2 million. The department also seeks $109.6 million for logistics-related IT efforts, which the Senate bill proposes slashing by $46.6 million, to $63 million. The report commends the Defense Department for recent efforts to trim its IT spending. So why the proposed cuts? Too much duplication across the department the subcommittee says. “The committee found a number of discrepancies where the resources reflected in the IT budget did not correlate to the operation and maintenance budget justification,” states a report accompanying the panel’s bill. “The committee recommends reductions based on that analysis. “Finally the recommendations include additional reductions to the operation and maintenance accounts to compel further review of non-cyber IT requirements — those not related to the defense of DoD networks — and eliminate duplication,” states the panel’s report. The subcommittee report notes the armed services for years have sought to “find savings” by consolidating data centers, email servers, and purchases of software and hardware. The panel’s proposed spending bill would give a boost to those efforts with its proposed $61.6 million IT cuts. 2. Hearing: Armed Services Committee: POW/MIA Restructuring This week, staff from the National Security Division attended a hearing held by the Senate Armed Services Committee regarding implementing the restricting of the POW/MIA community. The expert witness speaking at the hearing was Mr. Michael Lumpkin, Performing the Duties of Under Secretary of Defense for Policy. “The decisions are based on dispassionate analytical assessments and informed by feedback from families and here in the U.S. Congress,” Michael D. Lumpkin, told the House Armed Services Committee’s military personnel subcommittee. He said the secretary’s decisions were intended to address deficiencies in process, workplace culture as well as organizational structure. Recognizing that “sweeping changes” were necessary, Lumpkin said Hagel made his decisions based on careful consideration of reviews from the Government Accountability Office, DoD’s cost Assessment and program evaluation office, independent assessments, DoD inspector general comments, veteran service organizations, families as well as input from the workforce. “Secretary Hagel directed the establishment of a new defense agency that combines the functions of the [Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office], the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command and select functions of the Air Force’s Life Sciences Equipment Laboratory,” he said. “He directed that an armed forces medical examiner will be the single identification authority, making the process for past and current identifications the same, and to oversee scientific operations in the new agency.” DoD will work with Congress, he said, to realign funding for this mission into a single budget, allowing for greater flexibility and ability to respond more effectively. To improve the search, recovery and identification process, Lumpkin said, DoD will implement a centralized database and case management system containing all missing service personnel’s information. “The department is also exploring options to make this data more easily and readily available to families,” he said. “Importantly, Secretary Hagel directed the department develop proposals for expanding public-private partnerships in identifying our missing to leverage the capabilities of organizations outside of government that responsibly work to account for our missing.” Consolidating the organizations that work on past-conflict personnel accounting is necessary, Lumpkin said, but is not singularly sufficient for the changes the department seeks for families of missing personnel. At the same hearing, Jamie Morin, DoD’s director of cost assessment and program evaluation told lawmakers “our study confirmed many of the findings of the GAO report and extended on them in some respects,” and that top-level leadership attention is needed to address personnel accounting issues and “my assessment is that is exactly what’s happening.” Lumpkin noted Hagel’s decisions are “emblematic of the cultural and processes changes that must happen for us to be much more successful in fully accounting for personnel missing from past conflicts.” “Some of these decisions, particularly on the role of the medical examiner, are significant departures from how the department has operated in the past,” he said. Implementation will require continued support for change from within DoD and Congress, he added. Hagel has a long-standing personal interest in this important mission, Lumpkin said, and feels compelled to improve DoD’s operations and support. “I have welcomed the time I’ve spent working on this noble mission and have appreciated working with the committee and others in Congress to more effectively account for our missing personnel and ensure their families receive timely and accurate information,” Lumpkin said. 3. Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission - The MCRMC continues to hold meetings throughout the country. Below is a list of upcoming hearings: July 23-24, 2014 - Executive Session, Arlington, VA The Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission was established to conduct a review of military compensation and retirement systems and to make recommendations to modernize such systems. The Commission is tasked to submit a report, containing a comprehensive study and recommendations this month to the President of the United States and Congress. The report will contain detailed findings and conclusions of the Commission, together with its recommendations for such legislation and administrative actions it may consider appropriate in light of the results of the study. 4. POW/MIA Update Army Cpl. Cletus R. Lies, 26, of Bremen, N.D., was buried on July 3, in New Rockford, N.D. In late 1950, Lies was assigned to the Medical Company, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 31st Regimental Combat Team (RCT), east of the Chosin Reservoir in North Korea. On Nov. 29, 1950, the 31st RCT, known historically as Task Force Faith, began a fighting withdrawal to a more defensible position. Following the battle, Lies was declared killed in action. Between 1991 and 1994, North Korea turned over to the U.S. 208 boxes of human remains believed to contain 350 - 400 U.S. servicemen who fought during the war. North Korean documents, turned over with some of the boxes, indicated that some of the remains were recovered from Chongriyang-ri, a village near the area where Lies was believed to have died. To identify Lies’ remains, scientists from the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) and the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory (AFDIL) used circumstantial evidence and forensic identification tools, including DNA comparisons. Two forms of DNA were used: mitochondrial DNA, which matched his maternal-line sister and brother, and Y-STR DNA, which matched his paternal-line brother. Today, 7,882 Americans remain unaccounted for from the Korean War. Using modern technology, identifications continue to be made from remains that were previously turned over by North Korean officials or recovered from North Korea by American teams.
Arizona putting together veterans command center

The American Legion Department of Arizona is conducting a Veterans Command Center (VCCC) at Post 26 in Mesa on July 24, the first of what the department said will be several similar centers.

Department officials said that with the success of the Legion’s Veterans Crisis Command Center conducted in Phoenix in June, the department learned the great benefit of pulling together resources from the Department of Veterans Affairs and other community providers to reach out to Arizona veterans with help for their needs.

“We’re going to keep building on the collaboration that we enjoyed with (VA) during the Veterans Crisis Command Center in June,” Arizona Department Commander Andy Jaime said.

The Mesa center will be open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. at Post 26, 505 W 2nd Ave. VA outreach teams and other community providers will be available on site.The contact number for the post event is (480) 213-6277.

Marymount University offers senators a $10,000 scholarship

Marymount University President Matthew D. Shank offered the Boys Nation Class of 2014 nearly $1 million in scholarships – $10,000 for each of the 98 senators – if they applied and were accepted to the university.

Shank made his offer after Boys Nation President Matthew Ellow and Vice President Louis Lombardo were inaugurated during the July 23 ceremony. The oath of office was administered by Joe Bishop, senate and party counselor for Boys Nation.

Introducing Shank as guest speaker, Past National Commander Bob Turner noted that Boys Nation was celebrating its 29th year at Marymount “and there’s one person that we kind of look up to because he has to sign off on everything … and that’s the president of Marymount University.”

Turner told the senators he wasn’t sure if Shank was “going to announce this morning that he’s going to give you (each) a $5,000 scholarship if you come back to school here, but it would be nice.”

Shank then took the stage and said, “I will make that commitment right now. Anybody that would like to come to Marymount, you all are such outstanding people to be in this program, I’ll go $10,000.”

The reason why he was so quick to make such an offer, Shank said, is because he is so impressed by the Boys Nation program. “It is outstanding and, of course, we’ve hosted it for 29 years and we want to host it for another 50 years, well after I’m gone and well after you all are successful in whatever endeavors you choose to be in. We very much consider ourselves a family when we talk about Marymount, and you’re very much part of that family. So I hope you’ve been treated well … please consider yourself part of Marymount now and forever, whether you go to school here or not.”

Shank said that several Boys Nation alumni have attended Marymount, which has about 3,700 students, and the last one to do so became president of the university’s Student Government Association. “We have had some successes out of this program, but I know you all will be successful wherever you go,” Shank said.

Shank answered a few questions from the senators. Graye Miller of Canton, Ohio, asked what Marymount “brings to the table” compared with other universities in the Washington area. Shank replied that the university is the only Catholic-based school in the Commonwealth of Virginia “and so faith is very much part of what we do. And before you say, ‘Wait, I’m not Catholic – I can’t come to Marymount,’ there's only about 15 percent of the students that are Catholic. We have students here from every denomination, so one of the differentiators is the fact that we’re a faith-based institution.”

Shank also pointed to a strong liberal arts core curriculum as an important distinction, as well as the school’s location that is just a few minutes away from the nation’s capital.

Joseph Walker from Anchorage, Ala., asked, “How much does it cost to eat here?”

Shank chuckled and said, “That’s a great question.” He said the school’s undergraduate tuition rate is currently about $27,000 per academic year. “You might say that’s a lot, but for a private institution, actually, we’re at the lower tier in terms of the amount that we charge. Room and board is about $12,000 a year.”

Shank asked the senators if they liked the food here, and he received affirmative shouts and a round of applause. He joked that he “does the desserts.”

Stephen Patrick of Charlotte, N.C., asked Shank about security at the campus, especially since it is right across the Potomac River from Washington.

“We pride ourselves on security, as any university would," he said. "We have a very safe campus.” He mentioned that special protection is afforded when high-profile people visit the campus or enroll as students. For example, first lady Michelle Obama brought her two daughters to basketball camp last year and the year before two women graduated who were the granddaughters of the King of Saudi Arabia.

“There’s only one way in and out, and it’s not a large campus, so it’s easy to secure the grounds," Shank said. "But during the normal school year, we don’t have any special security needs.”

Ian Descamps from Missoula, Mont., asked what traits should be found in “a quality professor.”

Shank said that every professor is bound to have “a lot of content knowledge” about their fields of expertise. "But what I look for, beyond that," he said, "is do they have the right character? Do they care about the same things that we care about at Marymount? Do they have the same values? Again, they don’t have to be Catholic, but they have to understand they’re entering into a Catholic university. So they have to understand what we value, like respect for the dignity of all. Everybody in this room would have that same value. So we look for the intangibles.”

Shank thanked the senators and then received a special Boys Nation pin and shirt. Afterward, the senators left to join their committees and consider legislation they will be introducing into the senate over the next few days.

Visit www.legion.org/legiontv/boysnation for more videos or www.legion.org/photos/boysnation for more photo galleries from Boys Nation.

 

'We did it together'

Former Army Staff Sgt. Ryan Pitts doesn’t like to use the word hero in reference to himself. But he freely used it to describe others July 22 when Pitts was honored for being just that – a hero.

During his induction ceremony into the Pentagon’s Hall of Heroes – which came less than 24 hours after he received the Medal of Honor – Pitts praised those who fought alongside him in 2008’s Battle of Wanat in Afghanistan, the families of those who lost their lives during that battle, and former and current members of the 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, aka the “Chosen Few.”

Nine U.S. servicemembers died during the battle when Pitts and his fellow paratroopers held off a force of more than 200 enemy fighters attacking Observation Post Topside and Vehicle Patrol Base Kahler. During the attack, Pitts took shrapnel in his arms and legs but continued to lob grenades at the enemy before firing a machine gun from his knees.

With the support of four other soldiers who helped hold the position, Pitts was able to call for air support that would repel the attackers. Had the attack been successful, the enemy would have been on high ground and able to inflict heavier casualties on the vehicle patrol base.

Those who gave their lives that day are the true heroes, Pitts told a packed Pentagon Auditorium audience that included family members of the servicemembers killed in the line of duty at Wanat.

“Our fallen … fought to their last breathes to ensure the rest of us could return home,” Pitts said. “They are the real heroes. These men and so many others displayed extraordinary acts of valor that day. No one man carried the fight. We did it together.”

Pitts told the KIA’s families in attendance that he thinks about his former comrades daily. “I will for the rest of my life, and I am not alone,” he said. “You raised, molded and loved incredible men. Many of the men present in this room are here because of their actions – actions that changed the course of history for us, actions that gave the rest of us a second chance.

"My son Lucas exists because of them, as do many other men's children. I promise that my son will grow up appreciating the actions of these men he never knew. I will spend a lifetime telling their stories to honor their heroic deeds. This is a responsibility that accompanies the award.”

Then, addressing those at the ceremony who fought alongside him that day, Pitts said, “I owe you a debt I can never repay.”

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno said that Pitts’ respect for others, along with his gallantry, courage and determination, make the Medal of Honor recipient stand out. “His lasting legacy will be of all those he has influenced by his actions,” Odierno said. “We honor Staff Sgt. Pitts … but by honoring him, we also honor those heroes who fought so selflessly by his side.”

Army Secretary John McHugh talked about the bond between Pitts and those who fought alongside him. He spoke of Pitts holding the hand of his dying friend, Sgt. Israel Garcia. The two talked for awhile. Garcia asked Pitts to tell his mother and wife that he loved them.

“Ryan later honored that commitment,” McHugh said. “So, through all of the chaos, through all of the destruction, we can clearly see that love, even in the face of such tragedy, bonds these men and their families. And believe it or not, just as it is on the home front, love and trust are the foundations of this incredible professional American Army.”

Deputy Defense Secretary Robert O. Work said Pitts and his fellow soldiers’ “dedication to duty, regardless of personal safety, embodies the very best traditions of the American military. This generation of American fighting men and women have demonstrated by their actions that they are, in fact, a truly great generation.”

New York Auxiliary raises $72,199 for OCW

The American Legion’s Operation Comfort Warriors (OCW) program received a donation of more than $70,000 from the American Legion Auxiliary Department of New York this past weekend.

Barbara Corker, 2013-2014 New York Auxiliary president, said she was inspired to promote OCW as her fundraising program because of all the wounded servicemembers returning from war with needs. “This was a way for us to give our thanks to them,” she said.

One hundred percent of donations to OCW are turned into gifts for wounded servicemembers and those transitioning back to civilian life. Past gifts have included equipment for adaptive sports therapy programs, basic kitchen supplies for soldiers’ rooms at military hospitals, and recreational outings for the veterans and their families.

Corker presented James Ellison, program manager at national headquarters for OCW, with a check for $72,199, which included $1,000 raised by the participants at Empire Girls State.

During the 2014 Empire State Girls State session, the participants scrounged for pennies and other change over three days to donate to the OCW drive.

“I was more than satisfied,” Corker said. “I set a goal of $50,000. I was speechless when the final tally was made. And that’s the dedication of The American Legion Family of New York.”