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Veterans Benefits Information

‘All of us are better off because we served’

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Maj. Gen. Garrett Harencak implores military recruiters to just tell their story.

Harencak’s story begins when he left Elmwood Park, N.J., in June 1979. “Everything great in my life happened after that because I left to join America’s Air Force,” he told The American Legion’s national convention Wednesday in Reno, Nev. “I owe everything to this great Air Force. I’m a better person — my wife, my children, the dogs we rescued along the way — everything about the Air Force has made me the person who I am.”

As commander of the Air Force Recruiting Service, Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Harencak commands more than 2,470 airmen and civilians in more than 1,100 recruiting offices across the United States and abroad. Harencak oversees recruiting efforts and strategic marketing for the U.S. Air Force.

Focusing on the thousands of veterans in the convention, he said, “All of us are better off because we served.”

And that’s the message that he wants to convey to young people and persuade them to join the military.

“I believe we are bringing the single greatest weapons system into our Air Force,” he said. “And I have flown some great weapons systems — the B2 bomber, the B1, the B52. We have great weapons systems out there and we need them. But what I have learned in my 38 years in the Air Force is that the greatest weapons system does not come with a tail number. The greatest weapons system does not come with a serial number stamped on it. The greatest weapons system comes with a Social Security number.”

Still, recruiting in today’s world poses a significant challenge for the Air Force and the other services. Harnecak says that 52 percent of American parents will not recommend military service to their children. And, if at least one parent has a college degree, that number increases.

In 1965, 91 percent of American homes had a core military influencer in the home, according to Harencak. By 1995 that number had fallen to 40 percent. Today, it is only 14 percent. “The influencers are not there,” he said. “That manifests itself in a lot of ways.”

To Harencak, it’s important for recruiters to counter this by sharing their stories and being personable with potential servicemembers.

“We have to engage with people,” Harencak said, adding that there is a lot of misinformation on websites. “All of us — who know better — must look them in the eye and say that is not true. Should you be injured, we will take care of you for the rest of your lives, to the best extent we can.

“Recruiting today cannot be left up to social media. Recruiting today cannot be left up to the Internet. It must be as it always was — personnel.”

Harencak, a life member of Post 170 in New Jersey, has American Legion blood in his veins. As a youth, he played Legion Baseball and was a member of Sons of The American Legion. “I am here to thank you because what you do on behalf of The American Legion is inspiring. Our Air Force, Marines, Army, Navy and Coast Guardsmen — we all thank you for what you are doing as you fight for the veterans of our great nation.”

He closed by asking Legionnaires to help recruit the next generation of servicemembers by asking them to work with their schools and local recruiters.

“There just aren’t enough of us out there,” he said. “Everyone in the Air Force thanks you, American Legion. You do a lot. Now we’re asking you to do more.”

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A 'wonderful partnership' heads into the future

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American Legion posts have sponsored 50,000 Boy Scouts and provided 22,000 Scouting leaders this year. That, Boys Scouts of American National Commissioner Charles Dahlquist said, shows the strength of the longtime relationship between the two organizations.

“In 1919 when The American Legion was organized, at its first convention one of the very first items of business was to recognize the Boy Scouts of America and begin this wonderful partnership,” Dahlquist said while addressing the Legion’s national convention in Reno on Aug. 23. “You are making a great difference.”

Dahlquist said that “our lives are a series of windows. And because of what (The American Legion does) with the Boy Scouts of America, you are making windows for these young people that will impact their lives forever.”

Together, Dahlquist said, the Legion and the Boy Scouts are helping shape the future. “We are together, the Boy Scouts of America and The American Legion,” he said. “With your Four Pillars … and with our Scout Law, we’re building a rising generation who will be able to follow in your footsteps … and the footsteps of all of those who’ve gone before to keep this country free.”

Dahlquist also presented American Legion National Commander Charles Schmidt, who attended this year’s National Scouting Jamboree, with a walking stick. “Every leader, at least in Scouting, needs to have a walking stick,” Dahlquist told Schmidt.

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National veterans museum set to open next summer

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The National Veterans Memorial and Museum is due to open next summer in Ohio, Air Force retired Col. Tom Moe announced at The American Legion’s National Convention on Wednesday in Reno, Nev.

“There is no single museum dedicated to honoring the veterans experience in this country until now,” said Moe, a member of American Legion Post 11 in Lancaster, Ohio. “This memorial also honors those who died in service, those who could never enjoy — as a civilian — the fruits of their service and sacrifice.”

The National Veterans Museum and surrounding memorial grove will occupy a seven-acre riverfront site in Columbus. “It is already paid for,” said Moe, noting that $77 million has been raised.

A veterans advisory committee representing all branches of service and various wars has helped shape the museum’s concept while honoring and respecting veterans.

The museum will feature permanent and temporary exhibits. Designers are working to create a permanent exhibit that will take visitors on a narrative journey emphasizing the core themes and stories of the veteran experience. The exhibits will focus on four core pillars: honor, connect, inspire and educate.

“We will honor Americans’ contributions through military and veterans service,” Moe said. “We will connect visitors through veterans through stories of their service and experiences.”

The museum also will honor historical and contemporary examples of veterans’ stories, exploring the transformative experience of service while connecting it to community service. “This is not a military museum; it is not about tanks,” Moe said. “It is about people and their stories.”

The memorial grove “will serve as as site of reflection,” Moe said, adding that “it will also serve as a site for celebration — to celebrate the ties that bind us together.”

A rooftop sanctuary has been designed for processions, memorial ceremonies, military weddings and other veterans events.

“This memorial and museum is not a fantasy,” Moe concluded. “We look forward to the grand opening next summer. We have universal support for the project and I hope we have yours as well. Our 22 million living veterans — and the countless millions who have gone before us — have earned a national museum to call home. And now we will have that home.”

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'The soldiers' secretary'

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Widely praised for his work as secretary of the Department of Defense – where he served under both Republican and Democratic presidents – Robert Gates still has memories of his time leading the DoD from 2006-2011.

And in a poignant and often touching speech to The American Legion National Convention Aug. 23 in Reno, Nev., Gates shared those memories after being presented the Legion’s Patriot Award.

“The troops were the reason I took the job, and the troops were the reason I stayed,” Gates said. “Being called ‘the soldiers’ secretary’ because I cared so much about them is the highest compliment imagined.”

An Air Force officer during the Vietnam War and member of American Legion Post 110 in Lacey, Wash., Gates also serves on The American Legion 100th Anniversary Honorary Committee.

In addition to serving as DoD secretary, Gates also headed up the CIA, and served as president of the Boy Scouts of America and Texas A&M University, and as chancellor of the College of William & Mary.

American Legion National Commander Charles Schmidt praised Gates for being “a man who epitomizes public service. In 2007, Time magazine listed him as one of that year’s most influential people. The following year, he was named as one of

America’s Best Leaders by U.S. News & World Report. A Washington Post book review said he is ‘widely considered the best defense secretary of the post- World War II era.’”

Gates said at the start of his DoD secretary tenure a woman approached him at his hotel restaurant table and asked if he was the new secretary.

“She congratulated me, and then with tears in her eyes, said ‘I have two sons serving in Iraq. For God’s sake, bring them home alive,’” Gates said. “Our wars suddenly became very real to me, along with the responsibility I was taking on for all those in the fight. It only took a few trips to the front line in Iraq and Afghanistan before I began to feel a deep and emotional attachment to them.”

Gates said he began feeling as those he was personally responsible for each servicemember in harm’s way. “I soon was telling the troops on the front lines that I had come to regard them as my own sons and daughters,” he said, “and that I would do everything in power to get them the equipment they needed to accomplish their mission and to come home safely – and if wounded, to ensure they got the best care in the world.

“What I didn’t expect was that I would have to fight the Pentagon bureaucracy itself to fulfill my pledge to those amazing young people whose selfless service and sacrifice contrasted so vividly with so many self-serving elected and non-elected officials.”

Gates said that when he did have to write a letter to a family who had lost a loved one while served, he asked for a picture of the deceased, as well as a hometown newspaper article to learn what the deceased’s family and friends were saying about him or her, and to learn more about the deceased servicemember.

“I wanted to know each of them when I handwrote the condolence letter,” Gates said. “I came to believe, as so many of you have long known from personal experience, that no one who had actually been in combat could walk away without a scar.

“My wars are over. But for all you, who have served and fought, for the wounded and their families, for the families of the fallen, our nation’s wars are continuing for the rest of their lives.”






Previous winners of the Patriot Award include Sen. Bernie Sanders, U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller, the Oak Ridge Boys and Samsung.

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'Dirty Jobs' creator honored with Patriot Award

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Mike Rowe became a household name on his own TV show “Dirty Jobs,” which highlighted difficult, disgusting, messy or strange jobs performed by people across the country.

But Rowe said were it not veterans, his show likely wouldn’t have had the overwhelming success it did.

“We did 300 dirty jobs," Rowe said Aug. 23 at The American Legion National Convention in Reno, Nev. “If I made a list of the people who we profiled who served (in the military), more than half would be on that (list).”

Rowe was presented with The American Legion National Commander’s Media & Communication Award for his inspirational message about the value of work, the greatness of America and the importance of accomplishment. He was cited as “one of our nation’s leading advocates of blue collar trades, employment opportunities for veterans and the Second Amendment.”

Rowe said that "Dirty Jobs” helped start a national conversation about the definition of a good job. While headlines talked about the high unemployment rate, “The people who ran the small businesses that we typically profiled on the show were struggling mightily to find people who were willing to learn a skill that actually was in demand, show up, stay late and do all the stuff that we all know is ultimately the key to any success story worth telling,” he said.

Rowe started a worth-ethic scholarship program for people willing to learn a skill in demand. “As soon as we started doing it, you know who stepped up first – the men and women of the U.S. armed forces,” Rowe said. “There they were … to say ‘I get it. My skills are already at work. I show up early. I stay late. You don’t have to train me to do that. What you can train me to do is weld. Or plumbing. Or electrical.’”

Rowe closed by saying there are 6 billion U.S. jobs that don’t require a college degree and are available now. The best of filling those jobs, he said, are “the people who are transitioning back into society (from the military) looking to apply the skills they already have. The unemployment rate for recently returning service people is just too damn high. And there’s no reason for it, because the opportunities are still here.

“So in my own little way, with my TV shows and my 5 million friends on Facebook and my little foundation, I’m going to do what I can to … tell the story about opportunities that actually exist, reward work ethic where I can find it, and most importantly thank each and every one of you for being the choir that is so much fun to preach to. You guys get it.”

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Did you know?

A veteran’s family must request a United States flag.

A flag is provided at no cost to drape the casket or accompany the urn of a deceased veteran. Generally, the flag is given to the next of kin. Only one flag may be provided per veteran. Upon the request of the family, an “Application for United States Flag for Burial Purposes” (VA Form 21-2008) must be submitted along with a copy of the veteran’s discharge papers. Flags may be obtained from VA regional offices and most U.S. Post Offices.