American Legion national commander tours Post 15 in Detroit Lakes
James W. “Bill” Oxford, the national commander of the American Legion, concluded his nine-post, weeklong tour of Minnesota on Friday evening, April 9th, at Post 15 in Detroit Lakes. The trip was part of the commander’s regular tour schedule to visit all 55 legionary divisions during the year, one for each state and five other areas.
Oxford highlighted the difficult year due to the COVID-19 pandemic and a near-normal future, as many of the Legion’s youth programs canceled last year will return in 2021.
“We have seen posts across the country, we have made posts lose their homes, they have closed their bars, their restaurants, their social quarters and are in real financial trouble because of lack of income,” said Oxford. “Last fall, the American Legion’s National Executive Committee launched a program called the Mission Blue Post Assistance Program. We want to be able to provide assistance and financial support to those in trouble.”
The program allows tough spots to apply for $ 1,000 in grants that can be used to pay current or past rental, mortgage, utilities, and insurance costs, according to the Legion’s website. Interested positions can apply online for the support grants.
During his speech, Oxford also said that the group’s membership is trending in the wrong direction. In 1948, he said, the American Legion had 3.3 million members; In 2021, however, Legion membership has dropped to around 1.7 million members.
“We have to remember that the American Legion is still here, still as available and still as relevant as ever,” said Oxford. “When we think of our organization, our organization depends on membership.”
In 2020, the American Legion began accepting members who did military service outside of active warfare. According to Oxford, 4.2 million new veterans and potential members have been able to join the organization as a result of the new eligibility requirements.
“We didn’t see the bump I was expecting,” he said. “They are still out there, and we need every member of the Legion family … to be a recruiter, a henchman and an inviter, to make sure we invite everyone who is eligible for the American Legion to become a Legion member . “
Legionary posts also need to be more welcoming to families, he said, and new veterans who have served in the post-9/11 period need to be added to the organization to clear the misconception of being an older, veteran-centric group.
American Legion National Commander James W. “Bill” Oxford, right, speaks to members of the local Legion during his lunch stop at Post 15 in Detroit Lakes on Friday, April 9, 2021. As part of a weeklong postal tour of Minnesota Oxford highlighted the difficulty due to the COVID-19 pandemic and a brighter future with the return of the Legion’s youth programs in 2021. (Michael Achterling / Tribune)
“We are emphasizing our child and youth programs and examining our digital footprint and communication needs using these digital tools to make the Legion more realistic to our younger veterans,” said Oxford.
The Legion is pushing its state youth programs for 2021, which will allow events to continue in accordance with guidelines from their state’s COVID-19 Department of Health, he said. These programs include but are not limited to: American Legion Baseball, Boys and Girls State, shooting programs, and speech contests.
“When you think of our children and youth programs, we are developing the future leaders of this country,” said Oxford.
In 2019, more than 200,000 boys and girls were affected by the Legion’s youth programs, and the organization must continue to be effective for younger generations so that they can see the Legion’s worth.
He also said American Legion Baseball has already received 1,250 team enrollments for its youth baseball program and hopes more will be enrolled in the coming weeks. He said the Legion anticipates around 3,500 registered teams for the 2021 season, culminating in the American Legion World Series in Shelby, NC, in August.
“We’re moving forward,” said Oxford. “We are still facing these limitations due to COVID and will deal with social distancing and such demands, but we go further and it looks like everything will get bigger and better and stronger at some point.”