As leader of the world’s largest veteran’s organization, I often have the privilege of meeting some important people. No, I am not referring to our elected officials, business leaders or celebrities. I am speaking of the members of the U.S. military.
Can any CEO or distinguished Ivy League graduate truly claim to be under more pressure than the 21-year-old squad leader walking a patrol in Baghdad? Do they really have more responsibility than the young commander of a nuclear-powered submarine? Do they have as much on the line as the mechanic fixing a $2 billion Stealth bomber?
“Nothing in our lives will ever be as important as this,” said Lt.Col Henry Mucci, in the 2005 true-to-life film “The Great Raid.” He makes the statement prior to leading the rescue of more than 500 American prisoners of war held by the Japanese. While Mucci’s mission was spectacularly successful, America is blessed because millions of men and women realized – and still realize – that nothing in their lives is as important as defending this nation. For many veterans, it was important enough to endure long separations from their families, miss the births of their children, freeze in sub-zero temperatures, bake in wild jungles, lose limbs, and, far too often, lose their lives.
Fortunately, when a soldier walks into an American Legion post, he is given the thanks of a grateful organization. If we put soldiers in boots, and we put those boots in harm’s way, The American Legion family knows it must support them in every way.
We are committed to finding good jobs for comrades by hosting career fairs and urging Congress to maintain a strong veterans preference program for federal employment. Companies understand that it’s smart business to hire veterans, and when members of the Guard and Reserves deploy, it is America’s business to ensure that their civilian careers do not suffer.
We must not forget the unique needs of women veterans. Women are major contributors to our military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan and many have given their lives in the War on Terror. VA must be prepared to adequately treat the special needs of our female veterans.
When my predecessor, Past National Commander Paul Morin, asked Americans to donate $50,000 so wounded warriors at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany could receive comfort items, The American Legion family and its friends responded in a big way – raising more than $300,000 for these heroes.
The quality of health care provided at most VA centers is consistently rated among the best in the world. Communities across our great country have recognized the value of military service, honoring heroes and their families with Blue Star salutes. And the American GI consistently tops public opinion polls and surveys as the most respected person in America.
Just as Colonel Mucci said, “Nothing in our lives will ever be this important” – likewise, nothing on a person’s lifetime resume’ should trump past military service.