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Santa event a big hit

This year’s American Legion Post 519 Amateur Radio Club's "Kids Talk to Santa at the North Pole" exceeded all expectations. The event coincided with the Guide Dogs of the Desert's annual 2017 Santa Paws 5k.

We set up our mobile base station strategically to get the attention of most of the kids and some adults, and next to 7-Eleven's free cookies and milk tables.

Our mobile base equipment was a Yaesu FT-857D with a Bioenno Power 12 Volt, 9 Amp Hour Lithium Iron Phosphate Battery and a Chameleon V2 mobile antenna clamped to a leg of a fold-up aluminum table. Frequency used was 146.940 - 107.2 DRATS repeater.

Auxiliary Unit 519 set up two tables next to us and gave many of the kids face paintings. They also ushered kids and parents to our booth. We had more than 100 kids and adults talk to Santa; we ran out of candy cane treats for the kids early.

Santa's elves were members of the radio club, Auxiliary and the Desert Rats Amateur Radio Club (DRATS).

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Tom McLean (KJ6DZT)

USAA Tips: What you need to file taxes

Content provided courtesy of USAA.

Sometimes it can feel like America’s tax system is designed to drive us a little bonkers. We’ve got one of the most complicated tax codes in the world, and even the most innocent blunders can rack up penalty fees from the IRS. That’s why when it comes to what you need to file taxes, it’s always good to focus on the basics.

Remember to actually file your taxes. To be fair, not everyone who fails to file a tax return forgets: for some who had low income for the year, it’s simply not required. But before you start feeling like you’ve scored a win by skirting the paperwork, think again. You could be turning down free money in the form of a refund! In fact, the IRS is sitting on unclaimed tax refunds totaling over $1 billion for around 1 million taxpayers who didn’t file a 2013 tax return. If that sounds like you, get moving. The IRS permits most taxpayers a three-year window to claim a refund.

Prep the proper paperwork. Gather up all your income statements from the previous year and find the right forms so you can report all income and claim every credit or deduction by taking advantage of every available deal.

Check (and double-check) your numbers. Even the most number-savvy person can make a super-simple mistake, like writing a 93 instead of 39, which can cause ripples throughout the rest of your tax return. The fix? From missing numbers to math mistakes, proofread your work to ensure everything’s entered and calculated correctly.

Take the time you need. If what you need to file taxes is more time, you’re in luck: just file an extension to buy a few extra months to fully prepare your tax return. Remember, this is an extension of time to file, not an extension of time to pay.

If you’re self-employed, have especially sophisticated investments, recently moved overseas or gathering the right paperwork is taking longer than expected, consider this a smart strategy to avoid incomplete or erroneous tax returns, which might fetch unexpected fees thanks to haste.

If you’re still in doubt about what you need to file taxes, get a little help from your friends – or, at least, a trusted tax professional. Asking for help takes a bit of bravery, and by working with a tax pro, you can learn all kinds of tips and tricks to make future tax filing less stressful and more efficient.

Strength comes from membership

Dear American Legion Family and Friends,

There is strength in numbers. And there is dedication among American Legion Family members. Combine American Legion dedication and strength through numbers, and we have a time-honored formula for meaningful advocacy for the values we share: support for veterans, our troops, young people and patriotism.

Every day, we see American Legion members supporting today’s servicemembers. Sons of The American Legion members are diligently attending to the needs of older veterans. American Legion Riders are raising money right this minute for scholarships to help young people. And Auxiliary members are working tirelessly to support their posts, chapters and squadrons.

Communities across America today are better off due to American Legion membership. I know this first-hand, having witnessed the kindness of American Legion Family members in many ways. I also know the impact we have on veterans, servicemembers and their families can’t be always be expressed in numbers.

Yet, it’s numbers we need now, more than ever before.

Without strong numbers, our influence to fight for veterans’ rights on Capitol Hill is jeopardized. Our youth programs will mentor fewer children who need our guidance. Our charitable donations will help fewer veterans, servicemembers and their families who need us.

In my travels as your national commander, I have seen the best of The American Legion. Veterans helping veterans and strengthening every corner of our nation.

We need to retain current members and recruit new ones to continue effectively serving our communities, states and nation in ways only The American Legion Family can. This coming weekend, the national Membership and Post Activities Committee will meet to lay out plans for growth.

But we need your help. Check in with expired members and encourage them to rejoin. Connect with younger veterans and let them know how The American Legion has their backs.

There are tools to help you succeed and help us grow:

  • There are wonderful flyers, presentations, posters, ads and more that you can use. Download them at the Legion’s membership page.

  • Each month, we are sending three copies of The American Legion Magazine to every post – at no charge. These are intended to be resources to give to prospective members, or leave behind at places where veterans congregate – VA hospitals, doctor’s offices, etc.

  • Review the Legion’s Basic Training course and encourage other members to check it out. The interactive guide features videos, digital photos, clickable links, a historical timeline and more to help visitors learn more about our organization.

Together, our dedication and the strength of numbers will allow us to continue standing tall for veterans and servicemembers as we near the beginning of a second century of service. We will fight to ensure that veterans receive the health care they deserve, that our troops are poised to succeed, that rewarding career opportunities are available for veterans and their spouses, children are educated and our nation’s flag is treated with the respect it deserves.

Family First.

2017 Legion World Series runners-up host team reunion

Creighton Prep Omaha, Neb., American Legion Post 1 team members celebrated their 2017 American Legion World Series runner-up finish by hosting a team reunion.

At the event, Omaha Post 1 team members received rings to honor their accomplishment. In addition, the team surprised its Legion World Series bat boys in Shelby, N.C., with matching rings and had them remotely join in on the festivities via a video call. The team and bat boys created lasting friendships and several Omaha Post 1 team members have helped one of the bat boys through troubles with bullying.

Hollywood spotlights ‘Horse Soldier’ statue

To art lovers, history buffs and Americans simply wishing to pay homage to America’s Special Operations community, Manhattan’s America’s Response monument may be the Big Apple’s best-kept cultural secret. Awareness may be changing soon with the nationwide release of Jerry Bruckheimer’s “12 Strong: The Declassified True Story of the Horse Soldiers.”

Starring Chris Hemsworth, the film prominently features the New York City monument sculpted by renowned artist Douwe Blumberg, who was featured in the and whose Nevada State Veterans Memorial-Las Vegas was commended by an American Legion National Executive Committee resolution in May 2015.

The 18-foot bronze sculpture overlooking the site of the World Trade Center attack on Sept. 11, 2001, tells the little-known story of the first Americans to ride horses into combat in more than 50 years during the winter of 2001-2002 in Afghanistan.

As if mirroring the clandestine nature of the missions it honors, the “Horse Soldier Monument,” as it is known, quietly stands sentinel over Ground Zero. Dedicated in 2016 at Liberty Park across the street from the World Trade Center site and the 9/11 museum, one almost has to be looking for it to find it. But once found, its artistry, scale and presence are unforgettable.

Blumberg’s original table-sized bronze limited-edition (still available from the artist at www.douwestudios.com) was inspired by a grainy 2002 DoD photo of U.S. Army Special Forces personnel (Green Berets) mounted on rugged Afghan horses. The visual irony of a 21st century, high-tech soldier on an Afghan mountain horse, visually unchanged for centuries, captivated Blumberg. Having been a professional horse trainer prior to his art career and a passionate supporter of U.S. military service, capturing the image in bronze was his way of responding to 9/11, he explained. Close collaboration with actual “horse soldiers” who were in Afghanistan immediately upon their return from these missions ensured historical accuracy of the monument.

Literally within days of 9/11, U.S. Army Special Operations units were actively engaged in Afghanistan, trailing the Taliban on horseback. The Special Forces team he worked with had arrived in Afghanistan with no riding experience among them, save one. They spent the next 30 days in the saddle, assisting their Northern Alliance allies in attacking Taliban forces through some of the most daunting, isolated mountain terrain in the world.

Success encouraged many smaller rebel groups to join the campaign until it ended with the capture of the northern city of Mazar-e Sharif. By then, the group had a force of almost 2,000 mounted soldiers. According to their captain, “It looked like something out of Lawrence of Arabia.” These were the first U.S. soldiers to ride horses into combat in more than 50 years. This particular mission is only a sampling of the diverse and challenging missions performed by the unconventional American warriors throughout the operation.

One of Blumberg’s goals, he said, was to make the monument “artistically relevant” to a wide demographic and to resonate powerfully with the military community. He intentionally chose to break from the common abstract memorial treatment to create a fusion of styles which he lightheartedly terms “surrealism” to convey the history while preserving the artistry of the sculpture.

“Clearly, no one image can represent the scope of our Special Operations community or their contributions,” he said. “I was drawn to this specific image because it perfectly represents the unique abilities, adaptability, professionalism, missions, courage and fortitude of the American Special Operations warrior. I felt the image of a mounted modern soldier was both startlingly unique and also served to weave a thread through our history, connecting these events with our past. This image also suggested to me two diverse cultures, modern and ancient, working together to fight tyranny and oppression, which I feel is a powerful lesson.

“My vision was to create a world-class monument that will provide a powerful and lasting experience for the viewer. It is my hope that this piece will increase awareness of the contributions made on our behalf by our Special Operations professionals while evoking a deep sense of gratitude, respect and appreciation for those heroes who have so effectively, faithfully and quietly preserved our freedoms. With this piece, New York leads the way in making up for an embarrassing lack of monuments to honor America’s Special Operations warriors.”

Having a World War II veteran father and a mother who lost her father to the Nazis in Europe, the military genre engages Blumberg’s passion. “I understand this is a nation founded upon the blood, sweat and tears of our veterans and their loved ones. I am extremely honored and humbled to be able to use my artistic gift to help bring permanent honor and recognition to these heroes who have sacrificed so much to protect the freedoms we enjoy and often take for granted.”

He added that he hopes a Hollywood blockbuster like “12 Strong” will honor the sacrifices, abilities and accomplishments of America’s special operators and also give the Horse Soldier statue a prominent place on New York’s map of preeminent attractions.

Young Hoosier Legionnaire shines in position at Pentagon

A love and respect for the American flag has created a bond between American Legion members, separated by age and geography.

Tony Hollandsworth is a senior airman in the U.S. Air Force, working for the Secretary of Defense at the Pentagon. While still living in Indianapolis, he met Paul and Jennifer Norton while they were conducting a flag education program at a local elementary school that he attended.

“I needed some of the kids to be a part of the detail during the ceremony,” said Paul Norton, who leads American Legion Post 510’s flag etiquette program. “I asked the teachers I was working with to pick out a few of their best and brightest to help with the presentation. The name Tony Hollandsworth was immediately mentioned.”

Hollandsworth caught on extremely fast.

“It’s one of those great moments as an instructor when you can see that the subject has really clicked for someone,” Paul Norton said. “You could see it clear as day with Tony. He was attentive and really showed a passion for the program. You just knew that the kid got it.”

After the presentation, the Nortons presented Hollandsworth with a military challenge coin for his diligent work, but they didn’t realize at the time what they meant to Hollandsworth.

While in high school, Hollandsworth had his eyes on becoming an EMT. However, his plans changed once he turned 18. After graduating in 2014, he joined the Air Force.

It didn’t take long for Tony’s Air Force career to take off. The United States Air Force Honor Guard actually recruited Hollandsworth right out of boot camp.

“They always look to recruit new people for the honor guard for service in special ceremonies, support missions at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and support for the president and the Joint Chiefs,” he said. “They put me through an interview process where I was tested in physical fitness and took part in personality evaluations.”

The USAF Honor Guard interviewed over 700 applicants. Only nine of those applicants, including Hollandsworth, were selected. He spent 18 months serving on funeral details at Arlington National Cemetery, was part of the Joint Service Color Team who welcomed the pope to Joint Base Andrews and was also part of the inauguration for President Trump.

In February 2016, Hollandsworth took a new position at the Pentagon where he works for the Secretary of Defense in the Public Affairs Office where he conducts VIP tours of the Pentagon.

“It has been very interesting. I have had the opportunity to meet with people from all over the world,” Hollandsworth said. “Being lower enlisted and being able to work beside our country’s top advisers and leaders has been an amazing experience.”

But he never forgot the Nortons, who inspired him. “I just really wanted to let them know how much they mean to me,” he said. “So, I thought the best way to do it would be to write them a letter.”

It was more than a letter.

“He sent a beautiful letter to us that told us about what he has been doing in Washington, but he also included two of his honor guard uniform badges,” Paul Norton said. “One for both Jennifer and myself. I believe they are only issued three of these badges. That is a big deal. We were honored that he thought that much of his time with us.”

Hollandsworth said the Nortons’ passion for the flag and this country really helped him find that same passion in himself.

“I had definitely heard of The American Legion, but I had no idea what it was,” said Hollandsworth, noting that he is a Legionnaire because of the Nortons. “Paul spent the time to tell me what the Legion was all about and what Legionnaires have done and continue to do for our nation’s veterans. After that, I immediately wanted in”.

Now, Paul Norton is inspired too.

“This young man has revitalized my faith that there are young veterans out there who can bring The American Legion to the next level,” Paul Norton said. “Servicemembers who really care about God, country and changing the lives of our veterans.”

 

Tim Sproles is the communications director for the Department of Indiana.

PNC Kreul remembered for mentoring, listening

American Legion National Commander Denise Rohan has fond memories of Past National Commander Keith Kreul, who passed away Dec. 28 at age 89 in Lancaster, Wis.

One of those, in particular, reminds Rohan of how humble and unassuming Kreul was. Right around the same time Rohan was endorsed by The American Legion Department of Wisconsin as a candidate for national commander, the department was honoring Kreul’s 30th anniversary as national commander. A few weeks later Kreul’s post had a similar event for Kreul that Rohan and her husband Mike attended.

“Keith was weaker at the time, and through his wife he made a big deal about me being there and that I would be Wisconsin’s next national commander,” Rohan said. “He was again turning the attention off of himself ... and wanted to make sure that people knew who I was.

“Immediately after my endorsement came up at our department convention, the first letter of congratulations I received was from Keith Kreul. It was a very nice note that congratulated me and said how proud he was of me.”

Kreul, who served as national commander from 1983-1984, was a U.S. Army veteran and member of American Legion Post 184 in Fennimore. Kreul also served as department commander, national vice commander and chairman of the National Legislative Commission.

Rohan first met Kreul approximately three years after Kreul had finished up as national commander. She met him at her first department convention when, at lunch, she was looking for a place to sit and noticed Kreul at a table by himself.

“I’m guessing he was sitting all by himself because everybody thought ‘you can’t sit with the national commander,’” Rohan said. “It was the only place I could sit. I very sheepishly went over and asked if he minded if I sat with him.”

Rohan said Kreul very cordially said yes. “When we sat and talked, he was so friendly and humble,” she said. “There’s part of it that reminded me of my dad. It was like I had to draw information out of him. I really wanted to hear stories about what it was like to be a national commander. He shared with me about going to the White House and meeting the president, testifying, traveling across the United States, the people he met. I’m getting to experience a lot of the same things that he shared with me.

“He was always quiet and seemed to be listening. He never really inserted himself into conversations. I never heard him say things like, ‘I was national commander. We should do it this way.’ He was quiet, listening and let people make decisions, but he would also help mentor.”

Wisconsin Legionnaire David Gough – who has served as department commander, National Executive Committeeman and national vice commander – said his relationship started with Kreul when Gough became active at the district level.

“We became good friends, and he acted as a mentor to me,” Gough said. “As I was running for state offices, Keith always supported me. I saw him just before I was sworn in as national vice (commander), and he was proud as punch."

Gough regularly stayed in touch with Kreul and said the PNC was “very happy about Denise when Wisconsin endorsed her (for national commander).”

During his tenure as national commander – in which the United States dealt with the attack on a Multinational Force barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, which resulted in the deaths of 241 U.S. servicemembers, as well as the U.S. invasion of Grenada – Kreul stressed the importance of Legionnaires being active in their communities “to spread the word about The American Legion.” He also urged Legionnaires to get involved in the election process, saying that, “The right to cast a ballot is not to be taken lightly. We who put our lives on the line to defend it also have a commensurate responsibility to exercise that right and educate others – particularly our youth – in the responsibilities that American citizenship confers.”

The 40th anniversary of the signing of the original GI Bill also happened while Kreul was leading the Legion. Kreul said that anniversary “serves as a reminder to every Legionnaire that we are here to serve. The GI Bill provides a standard against which we can measure our efforts.”

And Kreul also made it a point to praise Legionnaires doing the organization’s work at the post level. “It is the Bluecap – with a dedication and zeal unmatched at the grassroots level – who has created and kept alive the dynamic programs for which we are known. It is you, the Bluecap Legionnaire and your families, who are the lifeblood of our great organization."

American Legion Past National Commander Jake Comer, who served in the office four years after Kreul, remembered Kreul as “a good Legionnaire. He ran a good year (as national commander). I respected him for the years that he served.”

Kreul is survived by his wife, Dolores, of Fennimore, four children, nine grandchildren and eight great grandchildren along with several nieces and nephews. Memorial contributions can be made to Fennimore American Legion Post 184, 960 Lincoln Ave., Fennimore, WI 53809; or to the charity of choice.

The Peace Light: From Bethlehem to Margraten

On Dec. 30, Post NL01 of Margraten, Netherlands, was given the honor and privilege of participating in the Vredeslicht (Peace Light) event at the Netherlands American Cemetery in Margraten. The Boy and Girl Scouts of Landgraaf were given the honor of carrying the Peace Light to their chosen location, the American World War II cemetery.

The origin of the Peace Light begins during Advent, when a candle is lit to an eternal burning flame, originating from the Grotto of the Nativity in Bethlehem. The Peace Light is meant to promote peace, harmony and unity among the people of the world regardless of race, ethnicity or religion. For several decades the international Scouting movement has actively promoted global peace and harmony through the distribution of the Peace Light. Each year, a child from Upper Austria is named the Peace Light Child and travels to Bethlehem to receive the flame from one of the grotto’s oil lamps. These lamps have been burning continuously for over 1,000 years. The light and child then travel back to Vienna, Austria, where it is distributed at a Service of Dedication to delegations of Scouts from across Europe, who in turn take it back, with a message of peace, to their own countries.

Post Commander Ray Vincent was asked to give a speech to open the event. He talked about the origins of the Peace Light and his personal opportunity to visit the grotto in Bethlehem while he was on deployment.

“To me personally, there’s no better place to remember the mission of the Peace Light than at this cemetery," he said. "For those who have given their all are laid to rest. These heroes did not seek to promote war and death, but rather to end it so that the world can heal. Sadly we know this wasn’t to be the last war, war still rages around the globe today. But we, by partaking in this ceremony, have not failed in the goal of the Peace Light Mission. Not at all. Because we are here today to honor those who gave their lives in the name of achieving peace. The only way we can fail in this endeavor is if we stop trying.”

Completing the mission 'come hell or high water'

In early September, three American Legion Riders from Chapter 31 in Salinas, Calif., left the West Coast and headed East on what was more than a month’s journey. The goal was to raise funds for a veterans cemetery in California, and that goal was accomplished to the tune of approximately $25,000.

But the three Legion Riders got much more than that during their mission.

Rick Phinney, Chapter 31’s sergeant-at-arms, joined Chapter 31 Chaplain Steve Culver and Past Chapter President Hy Libby on the Epic Ride for Dignity and Remembrance. The trio left California Sept. 4 and returned 32 days later, traveling approximately 9,500 miles through 28 states.

The people they met along the way and their generosity, combined with the mission itself, combined to create some powerful emotions for the three men.

“It was a huge honor for us,” Phinney said. “It’s just a hard, hard thing to put into words. I don’t think that the three of us, any of us, anticipated how it would impact us.”

The trio made the trip to raise funds for the California Central Coast Veterans Cemetery (CCCVC) in Seaside. The cemetery currently only inters cremains; Phase 2 of its construction project will include space for in-ground burials, but the cemetery currently is facing funding issues.

The group also carried a U.S. flag that they presented to Arlington National Cemetery to fly over the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier for one day before going back to the trio to accompany them back to California. Handing the flag over at the cemetery was surprisingly emotional to Phinney.

“We didn’t realize how hard it was going to be to let go of that flag,” he said. “I don’t think it was depression. It was more like a melancholy feeling. It was a degree of sadness. Even realizing it was coming back to us, it was still a hard thing.”

Both on the way east and home, Phinney and the others collected money for the CCCVC. The willingness of people to contribute also moved Phinney.

“It was amazing, just the number of people that stepped up and donated,” he said. “And it wasn’t the amount of money they donated as much as it was that they just felt compelled to donate to this thing. Who in the heck would ever imagine that people in the state of Maine 3,500 miles that had nothing to do with a cemetery on the West Coast … would reach into their pocket and donate $20, $30, $40? It was really, really humbling.”

Phinney said the ride also got great support from fellow Legion Riders across the nation. One, ALR Chapter 25 (New Mexico) President Alfredo Gomez, took multiple days off to accompany the trio both heading east and then returning home.

“This guy must have ridden at least 1,000 miles with us,” Phinney said. “He came up to Colorado Springs, met us there and took us through some roads in New Mexico that we probably would have never found. We saw parts of New Mexico that most people don’t see.”

During a ceremony a little more than two months after the trio returned home, U.S. Rep. Jimmy Panetta presented the flag to the Central Coast Veterans Cemetery, where it flew for five minutes before being taken down. The flag will fly over the cemetery one day a year: Memorial Day.

Panetta also prior to the trio’s arrival in D.C., making the effort now a part of the Library of Congress.

Phinney admitted the ride took a physical toll on all three Riders; Phinney himself lost 12 pounds, while the other two also lost weight.

“Physically, it was exhausting,” Phinney said. “But not one day did we say ‘we wish we could take the day off and just not ride today.' We just could not wait to get on the bikes and head east or head west. We were so committed to completing this mission. We were going to complete it come hell or high water.

“As Riders, we all look forward to a ride, especially one where we have a cause or a purpose or a mission. But prior to actually being on the road, I don’t think any of us … knew the emotional impact this would have on us.”

2017 TFA grants: $588,434 assists 433 veterans, 933 children

In 2017, The American Legion’s Temporary Financial Assistance (TFA) program provided $588,434 in grants that helped meet the basic needs for 933 minor children of 433 eligible veterans. Of the TFA grants awarded last year, $15,500 aided 68 children of 31 veterans who were affected by Hurricanes Irma, Harvey and Maria.

TFA grants help American Legion-eligible veterans, with minor children in the home, meet the cost of shelter, food, utilities, clothing and medical expenses in a time of need. These grants are made possible by the support and generosity of the Legion Family and the American Legion Endowment Fund Corporation.

TFA grants have helped keep a Marine veteran and his 16-year-old son in a safe home instead of finding themselves homeless again and ensure an Army veteran didn’t lose his home to foreclosure.

“If it hadn’t been for The American Legion, I would have been trying to figure out how to clothe, house and feed my kids,” said Brent Wightman, a TFA recipient and member of Post 176 in Waverly, Iowa. “The American Legion gave me a mission and a purpose again. They saved my life.”

The Legion’s TFA program has provided more than $16 million in cash grants to Legion-eligible veterans with minor children since its inception in 1925. The program is National Commander Denise H. Rohan’s fundraising project.

“TFA is another way that The American Legion puts families first," Rohan said. "People already know that the Legion helps veterans. But TFA is unique because it helps a veteran, with a minor child(ren) in the home, ensure that their children are safe and cared for. We have earned the trust of our donors and we award grants after a careful vetting process with the interests of the children being the primary consideration.”

For more information about TFA visit www.legion.org/financialassistance. And for online donations to the Commander's Charity Fund visit www.legion.org/donate. Payments by check can be made payable to American Legion Charities and put “Commander’s Charity Fund” on the memo line. Address is P.O. Box 361623, Indianapolis, IN, 46236-1626.

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