American Legion Signs Army Community Covenant
(September 15, 2009)
|LOUISVILLE, Ky. (Sept. 2, 2009) -- The
American Legion, a veterans' organization with a membership
of 2.7 million men and women, brought nearly 6,000 state
representatives, top political and military officials, and
Miss America to its 91st national convention in Louisville,
Ky., to sign a nationwide Army Community Covenant. |
"The leaders and representatives of our armed forces have
joined us today to inspire communities across America to
continue to create programs and initiatives designed to make
life easier for warriors and their loved ones," said David
K. Rehbein, outgoing American Legion national commander.
The Army Community Covenant, undertaken to foster effective
state and local partnerships to improve the quality of life
for Soldiers and their families, has quickly expanded to
include all branches of the armed forces, including the
Reserves and the National Guard.
"We're in the eighth year of this war, the longest in our
nation's history with an all-volunteer force," said retired
Maj. Gen. Craig Whelden.
Wheldon is a former commander of the U.S. Army Community and
Family Support Center, now re-designated as Family and
Morale, Welfare and Recreation Command.
"The secretary of the Army thought this would be an
opportunity to engage the American public in their
communities and raise the level of visibility of the
dedication and sacrifices our servicemembers," Wheldon said.
The Army Community Covenant aims to inspire the leadership
in cities, towns and states to develop new or expand
existing programs and services that support Soldiers and
their families. The signing ceremonies visibly demonstrate
the communities' support for military families.
"It's also an opportunity for the military to thank the
community for the support they provide," Wheldon said.
Whelden's organization has identified more than 1,500 "best
practices," from national initiatives to local programs that
offer effective community support for troops and their
For example, 35 states provide full tuition to military
families for higher education. Many nonprofit organizations
also help military families with their financial needs, such
as The American Legion's Temporary Financial Assistance
program (for families with children who are minors).
Other groups focus on assistance to children and youth who
experience trauma and loss, such as the legion-endorsed
Operation Military Kids.
Some groups focus on assistance to military families, such
as The American Legion Riders and the Patriot Guard, who for
years have protected the sanctity of military funerals
across the country, and Operation Wounded Warrior, an annual
multi-state motorcycle run by the New Mexico American Legion
Riders, which supports wounded servicemembers in VA medical
facilities across the southwestern United States.
"I'm a legionnaire," Whelden said. "And The American Legion
seems to be a very good fit for the kind of support the Army
Community Covenant is looking for. The Legion doesn't need
to spend any money on this. We're just asking its members to
help us with our outreach efforts to the mayors and other
civic leaders in their communities."
Many legionnaires, veterans of World War II, Korea and
Vietnam, at the convention were already involved in
improving the quality of life for Soldiers and their
Bill Ferguson, outgoing Alabama state commander, spent
nearly 23 years in the Navy, "...because my dad was a
colonel in the Army," he remembered with humor. He has been
a member of the American Legion for 15 years, with eight of
them being active.
"I got active because my son was fighting in Baghdad and I
wanted to support him and to make sure the support would be
there for him when he got back home," Ferguson said. His son
has continued in his father's footsteps by becoming CEO and
president of the newly formed Afghan / Iraqi Veterans
Charles French, a delegate from Georgia, joined the Air
Force during Vietnam and has been a member of the legion for
24 years, with nearly eight of those years as an active
"It was atrocious the way we were treated when we returned
from Vietnam. I don't want to see that kind of treatment
happen to our military men and women ever again. That's why
the signing of this community covenant is so important to
me," French said.
But his resolve isn't stopping there. With the signing of
the community covenant and the American Legion's pledge to
help their local communities get involved, French said, "I'm
going back to Georgia and spread the word through the
Six men from Louisiana, representing the Korean conflict and
Vietnam, echoed this support and future commitment for the
"We didn't get a heroes' welcome when we returned from
Vietnam," Frank J. Streva, a Navy man during Vietnam and now
the chaplain for the W. B. Williamson Post #1 in Lake
Charles, La., said to laughter from around the table.
"That's because you were no hero," Jack Young, a former
Soldier during Korea and Vietnam, commented with a smile.
The men quickly got serious when talking about their current
"We're involved with enhancing our relationship with younger
veterans and the communities where they live," James
Jackson, former Soldier, said. "We also run a community
baseball program, sponsor a gumbo cook-off and support the
Veterans' Day celebration."
Their hometown Soldiers, who live with their families in the
Lake Charles area, are members of the National Guard's 256th
Infantry Battalion at Fort Polk, La. They're about to be
shipped out for their third tour.
"We're holding a deployment ceremony in December," Jackson
said. "We'll be feeding over 1,500 family members as we send
them off. We might have been called baby killers by some
when we returned from Vietnam, but we want to change that
kind of attitude by giving back."
Whelden emphasized this need to change what happened in the
"Let's not repeat what happened after Vietnam. Today, these
men and women, who were about 10 years old when 9/11
happened, continue to step up and join in the fight with
their families left behind. With the help of the American
Legion, the hope is that all communities across this nation
will also stand up and support those who risk their lives
every day for our great nation," Whelden said.
Following a patriotic opening with songs sung by Miss
America, Katie Stam, and country music artist Michael
Peterson, the Army Community Covenant was signed at the
Kentucky International Convention Center by: Adm. Michael
Mullen, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff; Gen. David H.
Petraeus, commander, U.S. Central Command; David K. Rehbein,
national commander of the American Legion; and other
"Seeing Adm. Mullen and Gen. Patraeus up there signing the
covenant made us feel really important and we're hoping this
same feeling of importance about this document, which is a
symbol of the work we will continue to do, will be felt
across the U.S.," Steva said.
"We all have to contribute and remain committed to this
fight (in Iraq and Afghanistan). So what can the average
American community do? We're asking everyone to support and
care for our veterans and their families back home who have
paid dearly with their lives for our freedom," Whelden said.
Since April 2008, 85 communities have signed community
covenants, and often the events are an opportunity to
announce new regional initiatives or programs to support
service members. The Army Community Covenant's goal for 2009
is to have every state, city and town host these ceremonies
and pledge their support to Soldiers and their Families.
More information, including contacts and how to host a
ceremony, is available on the
Family and MWR Command Public Affairs
Army News Service
Comment on this article