Ron Wilkins, Lafayette Journal & Courier
WEST LAFAYETTE — One-hundred years ago, veterans of the Great War pledge to help one another in years that followed World War I, and the American Legion was born.
It is a historic moment that carries on through today.
This month, Jill Wable made American Legion history as the West Lafayette post, becoming its first female commander.
Her days as a Legion member date back to 2005, when she was a soldier in the Army Reserves. The American Legion was the one military service organization that helped her when she injured her back in 2007 while getting ready to deploy to Iraq.
Wable was a cog in the Army's mountain of paperwork and trying to get benefits.
“The American Legion — their veterans service officers out of Indianapolis — … those service officers, … they have more claims that they’re able to get processed and get payments than any other veteran service organizations across the country,” she said.
“Because I was able to be helped, I wanted to help others,” she said when asked about her passion for the Legion post she now leads. “It’s the adage of pay it forward.”
As the post's first female commander, Wable realizes she's a trailblazer.
“It is a honor to be the first female commander in here," she said. “It’s the faith of the post seeing that my heart was in the right place. That they felt strongly enough that I would be able to come in here and help move the post forward.”
Wable plans to raise the visibility of the American Legion in the community, as well as expand its patriotic education programs.
“Most people think that it’s a place that you come down to where old folks hang out and drink cheap beer,” she joked. “That’s not the case.”
“One of the things that I look forward to doing is to be able to help — with the other folks in the Legion family — to help educate folks in the community about what the post is able to offer," she said.
The American Legion offers school programs to teach proper flag etiquette or teach about service to the country, she said.
The American Legion helps veterans access benefits or helps veterans who are experiencing a crisis, she said.
And of course, there are the graveside honors for veterans that the Legion provides.
"The hope is to be able this term to be able to start educating the community of how the post can potentially contribute to them personally and over all where we can have a larger impact on our community,” she said.
She also hopes to dispel the misconception that one has to be a veteran to join the American Legion.
Children and grandchildren of veterans may join the Sons of the American Legion, and women whose fathers, grandfathers or husbands served may join the American Legion Auxiliary.
Contact Wable or any American Legion Post to find out how to join and give back to the community and its veterans, she said.
Reach Ron Wilkins at 765-420-5231 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter: @RonWilkins2.
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Story and Photos by Tim Sproles
It’s been 30 years since an Indiana Auxiliary member has served as National President of The American Legion Auxiliary, but we could see a Hoosier take the reins very soon.
Vickie Koutz of Boonville Unit 200 has a history of leadership in the Auxiliary.
She is a 45-year member who has served in various positions at her Unit, District and Department levels, culminating in Vickie serving as Department President from 2006-07.
Shortly after Vickie completed her year as Department President, the National organization came calling.
Vickie said, “I received a call asking if I would like to chair the Auxiliary Emergency Fund. I had never dreamed that I would be asked to chair at a National level. It wasn’t an aspiration because I never thought I would have the opportunity, so I immediately said yes.”
Vickie’s eligibility in the Auxiliary is through her husband, Jim Koutz, who also happens to be a Past National Commander of The American Legion (2012-2013). If elected President of the Auxiliary, this would make Jim and Vickie Koutz only the second husband/wife team to hold both offices of the National President and National Commander.
The only other married couple to serve as both National President/Commander is PNP Sharon Conatser (2015-2016) and PNC Martin F. Conatser (2007-2008).
Vickie says that she is not only honored by the opportunity to serve at a National level, but also honored to work with the wonderful woman currently in place.
“Auxiliary National President, Kathy Dungan appointed me as the Children and Youth chairman for her command year and I couldn’t be more grateful. I really appreciate her faith in me to take on this chair and I can’t express in words how much I value her friendship.”
Vickie has said that she is extremely excited for the opportunity to work with fellow candidates.
She said, “I am really enjoying working with Nicole Clapp and Kathy Daudistel. To have the next three candidates for national President working together and staying on the same page is extremely valuable for this organization.”
Nicole Clapp with be National President for the 2019-2020 year with Kathy Serving as National Vice President. When Kathy takes over as President in 2020-2021, Vickie Koutz will serve as her National Vice President and so on.
Vickie is a Paid Up for Life member of Boonville Unit 200. Her resume of service and accomplishments on behalf of the American Legion Auxiliary is long and varied. She has served her Unit, the 8th District and the Department of Indiana for the past 45 years. She has held numerous positions on all levels with the ALA as well as serving as Unit, District and Department President. She is currently serving as the American Legion Auxiliary's National Children and Youth Committee Chairman.
For information on how you can help Vickie Koutz on her road to the Auxiliary Presidency though donations and volunteering, contact Lisa Liford at email@example.com.
Story and Photos by Tim Sproles
American Legion Post 1919 in Greenwood, Indiana, operates just like any other American Legion post, but Legionnaires here have made a habit of “thinking outside the box” to set them apart and make the post successful.
For instance, one of the first things you notice about the post is that it operates from inside of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Greenwood Post 5864.
For most, having an American Legion Post inside of a VFW is not something you see every day, but it has become the new normal for these Legionnaires and VFW members. In fact, Post 5864 has grown accustomed to sharing their facility.
“We have multiple organization meet here on a regular basis, said Post 5864 Commander Steve Milbourn. “Within our four walls we host fleet reserve meetings once a month, the Coast Guard Auxiliary is beginning to meet here and the Submariners will be meeting here. Realistically, all of our organizations have many of the same goals, so why not work together and build each other up?”
The story of how Post 1919 came to be and why it is inside of a VFW Post all started from a “small” issue that seems to be causing “big” divides in Legion posts across the nation: whether to allow smoking in the posts.
Many of the members of Post 1919 were previously members of another local American Legion post that allows smoking inside.
Some Legionnaires had voiced plans to transfer to new posts, but then someone asked the question, “Why don’t we start a new smoke-free post in Greenwood?”
“The conversation started between Commander Steve Milbourn and Post Judge Advocate Mike Delaney, who are both are dual members of The American Legion and VFW,” said John “Dave” Everett, commander of Post 1919. “They said we don’t smoke, why don’t we start a new Legion Post here at the VFW? It just took off from there.”
Many say that allowing smoking at an American Legion post could alienate a large portion of the Legion family from taking part in post events.
“There are a number of positive reasons for a post to go smokeless, but I believe one of the most important is for a post to provide a family-friendly environment,” said Ken Pridemore, the American Legion Department of Indiana 7th District Commander.
“A quick Google search of American Legion youth programs will show you the importance our organization places on building up our next generation,” Pridemore said. “To not take full advantage of getting more people into the doors to spread the Legion message just seems like a missed opportunity.”
On April 9, the post held their monthly meeting where it adopted the new Post No. 1919 by officially signing the post charter. The post was originally named Post 586, which was a play on the number of the VFW Post, 5864.
The Post’s number change came as part of the National Commander of The American Legion, Brett P. Reistad’s initiative to create a “Centennial Post” in every department.
“Through their hard work, we can brag that Indiana is one of the few states to actually have a Centennial post,” said Department of Indiana Commander, Rodney Strong. “This group is extremely motivated and I look forward to watching them continue to grow. I can’t tell you how proud I am of these wonderful Legionnaires.”
A quick scan around the room during a Post 1919 meeting shows a mix of both older and younger veterans with various options, but all of these Legionnaires share a common trait. The motivation to make this post a success and work together to achieve it.
The Post actively works to engage both members and potential members through different avenues to reach as many veterans as possible. One of the ways is through the use of Facebook Live to broadcast post meetings.
“I think the social media aspect is being missed by a lot of posts,” CMDR. Everett said. “We all have the ability to get our message directly to our members. You know, schedules get tight especially if you have children—we understand that. That’s why we are using technology to make it as easy as possible to take part in this post. Any of our Legionnaires who missed our meeting can log on to Facebook and catch up on what they missed at any time.”
The post currently has just over 40 members, but Commander Everett is positive that they can grow even bigger.
He said, “As far as area veterans with families, we look at the city of Greenwood as an almost untapped resource. If you bring in the families, the veterans will come too. We know there is a large population of vets—now we just need to make sure that they know we are here and the door is open.”
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