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Patriots with a calling to serve

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Two U.S. special operations soldiers killed in combat in Afghanistan last week were remembered by relatives and friends as patriots with a calling to serve their country.

Sgt. 1st Class Javier J. Gutierrez came from a family of service members and was “very, very patriotic,” said his father, also named Javier.

Sgt. 1st Class Antonio R. Rodriguez “always put his men before himself,” said Cody Hunn, who organized a fundraiser to support the slain soldier’s family.

Both 28, the two men had served in elite units — Gutierrez in the Green Berets and Rodriguez in the 75th Ranger Regiment and then a special operations signals intelligence team supporting Special Forces.

They were assigned to 3rd Battalion, 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne) out of Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., when they were killed in an apparent insider attack in eastern Nangarhar province on Saturday.

The younger Gutierrez followed in the footsteps of his father, a Marine veteran of the Persian Gulf War, and his great grandfather, an Army Air Forces bombardier during World War II.

Gutierrez enlisted in the Army immediately after graduating from high school in San Antonio, Texas.

“He just had that calling in him,” his father told the San Antonio Express-News. “I guess like that video game, Call of Duty, to serve the country.”

A Special Forces communications sergeant, the younger Gutierrez deployed twice during his career, once to Iraq and once to Afghanistan.

“I think one of his main attributes was humbleness because he would just talk about it very low-profile, almost like it didn’t mean anything,” the elder Gutierrez told the local newspaper of his son’s attitude toward being an elite soldier. “He just had a very calm side to him.”

The Green Beret leaves behind a widow, Gabriela, and four children. A GoFundMe campaign set up to support his family described Gutierrez as “a stand-up brother, soldier, Green Beret, husband and dad.” It took only one day for the GoFundMe campaign to collect more than its goal of $50,000.

A GoFundMe campaign to support Rodriguez’s family also has surpassed its goal of $25,000.

The Las Cruces, N.M., native is survived by his widow, Ronaleen Rodriguez, his parents and his brother, Christopher, the fundraising page states.

“Rod took care of all of us, and now it’s time to take care of those he loved in his absence,” wrote Hunn, the organizer of the page. “Rod was a familiar face, both in and out of the U.S., whose personality radiated on those around him.”

Like Gutierrez, Rodriguez enlisted in the Army after graduating from high school. After initial training and selection, he was assigned to 3rd Ranger Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment. In 2018, he voluntarily reclassified as a cryptologic Spanish linguist.

He deployed to Afghanistan 10 times in support of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel — eight times with the 75th Ranger Regiment and twice with 3rd Battalion, 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne).

“The world is diminished by this great loss,” Michael Rodriguez, the President and CEO of the Global War on Terrorism Memorial Foundation — who is not related to the killed soldier — said of Rodriguez and Gutierrez’s deaths. “I vow that I will never allow their names or the names of our fallen to be forgotten.”

An Afghan soldier also was killed, and six other American service members and three Afghan soldiers were wounded when a man dressed in Afghan military attire opened fire on the U.S. and Afghan troops after a meeting with local leaders.

President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence attended a dignified transfer ceremony of the two soldiers’ remains at Dover Air Force Base, Del., on Monday.

Members of The American Legion can receive 50 percent discounts on annual subscriptions to the Stars and Stripes digital platform of exclusive military news, topics of interest to veterans, special features, photos and other content, including the daily e-newspaper, job listings and history. American Legion members can subscribe for $19.99 a year by visiting legion.stripes.com and using the coupon code LEGIONSTRONG when filling out the online form.


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March 1 department deadline for Eagle Scout of the Year nominations

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Nominations are now being accepted for the American Legion Eagle Scout of the Year for 2020. Application is online at legion.org/scholarships.

American Legion department headquarters must receive all applications by Sunday, March 1. Applicants with questions can contact their respective departments. Contact information is available at legion.org/departments.

To be eligible for the award, applicants must be a registered and active member of a Boy Scout troop, Varsity Scout Team or Venturing Crew attached to an American Legion post, Auxiliary unit or Sons of The American Legion squadron. Or must be a member of a chartered Boy Scout troop, Varsity Scout Team or Venturing Crew and the son or daughter of an active Legionnaire, Auxiliary or Sons member. Additional criteria includes that the applicant must be an Eagle Scout; have received the appropriate Boy Scout religious emblem; have demonstrated practical citizenship in church, school, Scouting and community; and reached the age of 15 and enrolled in high school at time of selection.

Department headquarters will submit their nominations by April 1 to National Headquarters. The National Americanism Commission’s Youth Activities Subcommittee will review all department nominations and select The American Legion Eagle Scout of the Year winner during the Legion’s annual Spring Meetings in May.

The Eagle Scout of the Year will receive a $10,000 scholarship. Three runners-up will each receive $2,500.

2019 runner-up Trevor Burke, who is a freshman at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, wrote a letter to The American Legion sharing his gratitude.

"Thank you so much for this scholarship," Burke wrote. "I really appreciate it and am continually mindful of your trust and confidence in me. With it, I am able to eagerly pursue my studies as an engineer and explore many different and exciting organizations on campus."

The Eagle Scout of the Year will join other American Legion youth champions at the 102nd American Legion national convention in Louisville, Ky., in late August.


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The American Legion is turning 101

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The American Legion will celebrate its 101st birthday on Sunday, March 15.

If your post, district or department is hosting a birthday celebration, a guidelined speech is available. This birthday speech is an opportunity for Legionnaires to share about the organization's history and mission, to both themselves and the community at large. The speech is not necessarily meant to be recited verbatim; members are encouraged to amend it to taste and audience.

Download The American Legion's 101st birthday speech.

Members of The American Legion Amateur Radio Club (TALARC) will operate a special event station on Saturday, March 14, to commemorate the Legion's birthday. Operating from the radio room at National Headquarters in Indianapolis, ham radio operators at club station K9TAL will communicate with both member and non-member amateur radio operators around the world. Learn more about the event here.

Posts can upload recaps and photos of their birthday celebrations, and other community activities, at legiontown.org.


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Legion-supported PAWS for Veterans Therapy Act heads to Senate

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A bill supported by The American Legion that would allow the Department of Veterans Affairs to connect service dogs with veterans dealing with post-deployment mental health needs was approved by the House of Representatives on Feb. 5.

Currently, the VA does not fund service dogs or recognize the use of therapy service dogs as a possible method to treat veterans with mental health needs, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). However, H.R. 4305, the Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers (PAWS) for Veterans Therapy Act, would allow the VA to award grants to nonprofit organizations that would provide veterans with puppies to become therapeutic service dogs, as well as cover the cost of training the puppies.

The American Legion supports H.R. 4305, through Resolution 134, because it provides an alternative form of treatment for veterans returning home from deployment with a traumatic brain injury and/or PTSD.

The bipartisan bill was introduced by Rep. Steve Stivers, R-Ohio, who served in Iraq with the Ohio Army National Guard.

"A soldier under my command during Operation Iraqi Freedom recently told me what his service dog means to him: he was able to fly on a plane for the first time in 10 years and he took his fiancée to dinner," Stivers said in a statement when H.R. 4305 was introduced. "That is the impact this bill can have on the lives of our veterans."

PAWS for Veterans Therapy Act would task the VA with creating a five-year pilot program to provide grants to one or more organizations to train and provide service dogs to veterans with PTSD and other post-deployment mental health issues.

The bill now goes to the Senate.

Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., an American Legion member and a ranking member of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, supports the PAWS for Veterans Therapy Act.

"Mental wellness does not have a one-size-fits-all solution, which is why VA must provide innovative and out-of-the-box treatments to help veterans combat these invisible illnesses and thrive in their civilian lives," Roe said to The Hill.


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Salute the Greatest Generation throughout this year

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Dear American Legion Family Members and Friends,

This year will be especially significant when it comes to honoring and remembering our comrades who halted tyranny in its tracks. Countless commemorations will document the end of World War II, which of course occurred 75 years ago this year.

While many of the heroes of that war have passed on, there are still some who walk with us, visit our American Legion halls and share their amazing stories.

The American Legion will honor these warriors with special stories, videos and other content throughout the year, most notably in the September issue of American Legion Magazine. This special issue is supported by Resolution 6, approved by the National Executive Committee during the 2019 Fall Meetings in Indianapolis.

From those who endured the attack on Pearl Harbor to those who braved the cold at the Battle of the Bulge to those who exacted revenge on Japan, we will pay tribute to their sacrifice and others who secured victory for America and its allies.

It’s critically important for us to gather these stories now before it’s too late. I was reminded of this just the other day when I learned of the passing of Bruce Benson, a World War II veteran and proud Legionnaire.

Mr. Benson, a member of American Legion Post 322 in Webb City, Mo., served his nation and for the past several years continued to serve his community with a nightly ritual.

After Jane, his wife of 68 years, passed away in December 2014, Mr. Benson played taps each night for years at sunset outside his home in Webb City.

“People ask us why we do this,” Benson said in 2017. “It’s to commemorate our fallen heroes, other people who are still serving and because of what my wife wrote in her memoirs. My thoughts, as we finish playing taps, go to her presence here and completing what she wrote as one of her last thoughts she put on paper.”

Please join us in this salute to the Greatest Generation. If you have World War II veterans at your post, consider presenting them with a special recognition. Help them tell their stories to students at your local schools, Boys Scouts or other youth organizations. And share their stories with our audience at the Legiontown website.


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Did you know?

The issuance or replacement of military service medals, awards and decorations must be requested in writing.

Requests should be submitted in writing to the appropriate military service branch division of the NPRC. Standard form (SF 180), available through the VA, is recommended to submit your request. Generally, there is no charge for medal or award replacements. For more information, or for the mailing address of the military branch office to submit your request to, call 1-86-NARA-NARA (1-866-272-6272) or visit the NPRC website at www.archives.gov