‘Just because you have a blue hat, it doesn’t mean you don’t know anything’

By Tim Engstrom
National Vice Commander Raymond Vail of Kansas speaks before American Legion members at the Department of Minnesota Appreciation Rally at Montgomery Post 79.

National Vice Commander Vail speaks at Appreciation Rally

Minnesota Membership Director Pam Krill provided National Vice Commander Raymond Vail with a gift, a wooden carving the shape of Minnesota.

MONTGOMERY — American Legion members who wear blue caps matter the most, said American Legion National Vice Commander Raymond Vail at the Appreciation Rally on March 2 at Montgomery Post 79.

“Just because you have a blue hat, it doesn’t mean you don’t know anything. You are the most important thing,” Vail said.

He said there was a time when having a member with a district, department or national cap was welcomed. Insights on how to operate a post and gain members were viewed as helpful.

Vail said too many post leaders these days see someone coming in to give advice as unwelcomed, especially if the white- or red-cappers are elderly.

His example was from when he was a new Legion member and a World War II veteran taught him how to make spaghetti.

“He didn’t coddle me. He told me directly: ‘You do that. You do that.’ He didn’t beat around the bush,” Vail said.

Sixth District Commander Anthony Koop figured his district might come in first, so he brought his No. 1 Twins bear.

Now, the visits sometimes are viewed as intrusive.

“They look at us as dominating and going to do things our way,” he said. “They fail to realize the post is a business.”

He said it is important for members to separate age from the message delivered.

Vail is an Army veteran of the Vietnam era. He served 1964 to 1966. He was stationed in West Berlin with the 7th Army as a radio repairman with a maintenance battalion.

He has been a Legionnaire since 1986 and is a PUFL member with Post 182 in Arma, Kan. He has served at the post, district, department and national levels. He was Department of Kansas commander in 2015-16. At the national level, he is on the National Security and Foreign Relations committees. He served seven years on the Arma City Council.

Vail’s career was in the pet food and can manufacturing industry. He retired in 2000. He and his wife, Linda, have been married 54 years and have four grown sons, six grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

He called Department of Minnesota Membership Director Pam Krill’s membership plan “a very do-able program.”

Minnesota’s goal is 58,214 members and is ahead of the target dates, Vail noted. He said the Legion wants young veterans but can gain members by signing up older ones, too, with surprising results.

Past National Vice Commander Don Hayden of Le Center Post 108 stopped by. Here he stands in the center. On the left is Past Department Commander Tom Fernlund. On the right is current SAL National Vice Commander Robert Bristo.

“Membership is the most satisfying and most frustrating thing you do,” he said.

The main topic of The American Legion right now is the prevention of veteran suicides. The Legion is spreading awareness through the “Be the One” campaign.

“What better organization than The American Legion to help veterans?” he asked. “It is an organization founded in 1919 to help fellow veterans.”

Veterans can get involved in the Legion in many ways, but if they don’t want to be involved, they should at least join so that the staff in the nation’s capital has greater pull when securing and maintaining veterans benefits with Congress — for today’s veterans and for future generations of veterans.

“Let’s give the national commander the clout he needs,” Vail said.

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The Appreciation Rally is a thank-you event with many awards handed out. Statewide, Minnesota was at 91.8 percent of its membership goal and was ahead of the 90 percent target date for March 13. The next target date is April 10, at 95 percent.

“Can we make 100 percent?” Krill asked.

The 10 districts of Minnesota compete. Here is how they stacked up on March 2:

First place: 6th District, 96.61 percent

Second place: 3rd District, 95.30 percent

Third place: 4th District, 93.51 percent

Fourth place: 7th District, 93.37 percent

Fifth place: 2nd District, 92.82 percent

Sixth place: 8th District, 91.94 percent

Seventh place: 10th District, 90.92 percent

Eighth place: 1st District, 90.63 percent

Ninth place: 5th District, 90.10 percent

Tenth place: 10th District, 89.93 percent

Membership standings are posted weekly at mnlegion.org/membership-reports.

Posts received awards as appreciation for their membership efforts. Those posts were:

Waseca Post 228, Rothie Post 330, Ellendale Post 296, Fairmont Post 36, Prior Lake Post 447, New Germany Post 601, Christie DeParcq Post 406, St. Paul Post 8, North St. Paul Post 39, Minneapolis Post 1, Minneapolis Hellenic Post 129, Minneapolis Northside Post 230, Little Falls Post 46, St. Augusta Post 621, Kelliher Post 470, Porter Post 457, Willmar Post 167, Chokio Post 629, Lawrence Lake Post 476, Moorhead Post 21, Roseau Post 24, Foston Post 114, Beroun Post 347, Bruno Post 563 and Osseo-Maple Grove Post 172.

District vice commanders receiving recognition for membership efforts were:

Cole Wilcox in the 1st District, Roxanne Zoet in the 2nd District, Joe Bares in the 3rd District, Jon Haworth in the 4th District, Andru Peters in the 5th District, Frank Gritter in the 6th District, John Jones in the 7th District, Larry Pocrnich in the 8th District, Jerome Clovning in the 9th District and Craig Hartman in the 10th District.