By David Poe, Fort Bliss Garrison Public Affairs:
(El Paso, Texas, Jan. 18, 2018)
Area veterans recently touched base with the leader of one of America’s foremost military advocacy groups. American Legion national commander Denise Rohan, the group’s 99th commander, spoke to local members and their families in El Paso, Jan. 8, as part of a visit to the Sun City.
Rohan, a former Army Logistics Soldier, is touring American Legion local chapters worldwide to encourage members to continue to serve, while she also learns more about veterans’ issues and community service focuses specific to the areas and regions she is visiting.
The American Legion is a nonpartisan, not-for-profit organization focused on service to veterans and their families, as well as community outreach. Chartered by Congress in 1919, the group has over two million members with 13,000 posts in all 50 states, as well as international locales such as France and South Korea.
In office since August, she said her leadership theme is “Family First” and talked about how the initiative applies during and after uniformed service.
“I believe we’re put on Earth to care about one another,” she said during remarks at the Legion’s Paso del Norte Post 58 in central El Paso. She talked about her connection to her own family to help explain “Family First.”
“When I got to call home (from Army basic training), all I did was cry when I heard my mom’s voice,” she remembered. “My mom helped me understand that the women I was at Basic Training with were my new sisters and that we were going to work together to get through – just like all of us made new brothers and sisters when we went through it. We learned how to get through together.”
Also a longtime Army spouse, Rohan, who is the Legion’s first woman to lead the organization, said the trials of military family aren’t new to her.
“I understand what the family goes through, and really, we do all serve together,” she said. “That’s part of ‘Family First.’ Our military personnel are well trained, disciplined and taken care of – they have all of the equipment they need to do their jobs. What they’re not sure is if their family is going to be safe and secure at home while they are off serving. That’s where we step in and that where family readiness groups step in.”
Rohan said supporting military families during and after their service is a matter of “national security” because high retention is heavily influenced by the satisfaction of the service member’s family.
“If their families are taken care of,” she said, “there’s a good chance they are going to reenlist.”
She also addressed post-military concerns for troops and military families.
“Just because you hang your uniform up and settle into your community, that doesn’t mean you’re not going to still serve your country,” she said. “When (my family) settled in Wisconsin, we wanted to still serve and we chose to do it with the American Legion family and we found brothers and sisters that had been through what we had been through.”
In addition, Rohan said she’s also focusing on internal reform, specifically increasing training opportunities for Legion service officers. Service officers are local Legion members who help connect others with support programs and services.
“(Service officers) are also a part of the ‘Family First’ initiative as they’re not only helping the veterans, they’re helping the families,” she said, adding that national-level service officer training will be available during the Legion’s upcoming national conference in February.
“The American Legion family is taking care of America’s families,” she said. “That’s why we’re here. When I was in school, I didn’t care about history, but as the national commander, I have met so many people and I have heard so many amazing stories. I’m learning a lot about history.” She followed by encouraging the audience “to share your stories” to help the American public understand the sacrifices troops and families endure every day.
“Everywhere I’ve gone across the Legion,” she said of her tour, “there’s something spectacular going on.”
After his time as an Army infantryman, Jose Ontiveros, the Paso Del Norte Post 58 post commander, continued to serve in the American Legion and has for more than 30 years.
He said he’s encouraged that Rohan and the American Legion’s national and state leadership’s high-profile visit to the Sun City will bring more awareness to veterans’ issues in the Borderland, as well as encourage current and new members to serve, simply because he knows how many national commanders have come to El Paso in the past.
“One,” he said with a smile during his post’s dinner in Rohan’s honor. “This one right here.”