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Troop support, military strength top commander’s agenda during visit to Korea

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Only two weeks after a North Korean soldier defected from the world’s most oppressed country, American Legion National Commander Denise H. Rohan stood just feet way from where the daring escape occurred.

“It just makes you appreciate the freedom that we Americans enjoy every day and sometimes take for granted,” she said following an extensive tour of the Korean peninsula’s demilitarized zone on Nov. 28.

South Korea is the first leg of a Far East tour that Rohan is leading, which includes American Legion Auxiliary National President Diane Duscheck, Auxiliary National Secretary Mary Dubbie Buckler and American Legion Executive Director Verna Jones.

Rohan is visiting U.S. troops, American Legion Family members and allied officials as she visits the sites of some of America’s costliest wars and the home of many current and retired military veterans.

“A strong national defense and support for veterans are two of our four founding pillars,” Rohan said. “Visits to military bases overseas are important for us to be able to deliver on those pillars. We have to see not only the cost of war, but the impact defense budget cuts have had on our military’s ability to defend freedom. Downsizing and relying too heavily on Guard and reserve units should be a concern for us all. We have to make sure that our troops have the strength and resources that they need to do their jobs.”

The delegation was technically in North Korea as they toured the inside of one of the famed blue armistice negotiation buildings that straddle the border of the two Koreas. “You definitely get the feeling that all of your movements are being watched from every angle and that these countries are still at war, with just an armistice in effect,” Rohan said. “The tension there is still very real but the professionalism, seriousness and knowledge of the South Korean and U.S. troops couldn’t be higher.”

An afternoon briefing at the forensic laboratory of MAKRI, the South Korean agency responsible for MIA recovery and identification, served as a reminder that many families still haven’t received closure about the status of those who fought the war more than 64 years later.

“We believe every family should know what happened to their missing loved ones, and we will go to any lengths to find and identify their remains,” said South Korean Army Col. Lee Hak-ki, commander of MAKRI. “We work very closely with DPAA (Defense POW MIA Accounting Agency) and will keep working until we bring our last hero home.”

Although forensic science has improved significantly over recent decades, time and the mortality of battle witnesses and surviving relatives add to the challenge.

“During the Korean War, we didn’t have a lot of records which is why what the lab does today is so important to the identification of remains,” said Dr. Lim Nahyak. “DNA collection of MIA family members is also very important to the process.”

Rohan recalled an observance that she attended last year to mark the 50th year since a U.S. Air Force pilot went missing during the Vietnam War.

“His remains had just been found,” Rohan said of Major George J. Pollin. “It was particularly sad because his mother had died just a few years before the identification. But you could still see the closure and comfort that this identification gave to his brother and sister. The American Legion opens every meeting with the placement of a POW/MIA chair. This makes Resolution 288 even more meaningful.”

The strength of the U.S.-Republic of Korea alliance was also emphasized by U.S. Army Col. Chad Carroll, public affairs director for United Nations Command in Korea. “We have two mottos. We have to be ready to fight tonight and ‘Katchi Kapshida – We go together!’”

Later this week, Rohan’s delegation will visit Okinawa, Japan, and the Department of the Philippines before heading to Hawaii for a memorial observance of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

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LA mayor joins Hollywood Post 43

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American Legion Hollywood Post 43 buzzed with excitement as 11 new members were inducted at the Nov. 20 meeting, including Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti who is now wearing the blue cap for the first time.

Garcetti said a big part of why he joined this historic organization is because of his family history with the military. His grandfather immigrated to the United States from Mexico when he was only 1 years old. He joined the U.S. Army and served in World War II, even though he wasn’t yet a U.S. citizen of the only country he knew, and became a sergeant fighting in the Pacific Theater. Garcetti said his grandfather left behind “two beautiful children, my father, and my aunt. That’s how he got his citizenship and in many ways, that’s why I’m here today.”

Garcetti’s father was ROTC Air Force and his uncle served in the U.S. Navy on aircraft carriers during the Korean War. Military service is “something that just runs through my family’s traditions and something we’ve been very proud to do,” he said. “I joined just after 9/11 after the Global War on Terror began. Something I’m very proud of.”

Garcetti continues to serve with 12 years in the Navy reserve as an intelligence officer. He’s a Lieutenant and served most recently with a Defense Intelligence Agency.

“I have to make a decision this coming year whether I get out for good or whether I keep going a little bit longer,” Garcetti said. “But it’s been an amazing ride, especially during the Global War on Terror and the other conflicts that we’ve had to be able to contribute to our overall intelligence effort and to the defense of this country.”

Post 43 member Brian Fagan served with Garcetti in the Navy. “Eric was very interested in The American Legion when we first started talking about it because his family are veterans, his grandfather was in World War II, and he was just interested in being able to hang out with other veterans in Hollywood.”

“I live just down the street (from Post 43) and it’s been a goal of mine for many years to join The American Legion,” Garcetti said. “I proudly do so today, not just as a veteran, not just as mayor, but as somebody who lives right here in the heart of this great city.”

According to a Los Angeles County veterans study, California is home to over 1.8 million former servicemembers and Los Angeles County is the most populous. Each year, approximately 12,000 military veterans settle in Los Angeles County as they transition out of the military, joining the 325,000 veterans who currently reside here.

“I want to make sure that we continue to fight for all of our veterans, especially those that are in greatest need … those who don’t have a home, those who don’t have a job, those who are going through medical issues, this is a place where we can help one another,” Garcetti said. “That’s what I do during the day as mayor, that’s what I can do at night now as a member of this great post.”

Garcetti spoke about two projects he’d like to work with Post 43 on: ending veterans homelessness in Los Angeles and getting veterans jobs. “We have fellow brothers and sometimes sisters who have hit the streets, who have lost their homes, who have sacrificed everything and are still battling demons,” Garcetti said.

More than 1,200 veterans are currently living on Los Angeles streets, while more than 8,000 veterans have been placed in homes since 2014 with help from federal rent vouchers and other services. “I think that’s a war we can win and I hope you will join me on that,” Garcetti said.

Garcetti also called on the Legion to help make sure that Los Angeles is known to be a city for getting veterans jobs. “We launched the 10,000 strong initiative to provide 10,000 jobs for our fellow servicemembers, and I’m proud to announce that as of last month we are at 10,790 (jobs),” he said. “We passed the goal and we are going to keep on going.”

Veterans are being placed in middleclass and high paying good jobs at companies like SpaceX, NBC and Disney who have partnered with the mayor’s initiative. “If you have a company that needs to stand up a veterans hiring program, let me know and we’ll bring the experts to your place to make sure that we continue making sure that every single returning veteran can have their civilian life be as strong as possible,” Garcetti said.

In 2013, Garcetti created the Office of Veterans Affairs, the first in the City of Los Angeles since World War II, to work collaboratively with government agencies and community-based organizations to advocate for and coordinate services for veterans in Los Angeles.

“I thought it was important in L.A., which has actually given more casualties, more sacrifices, in the recent wars than any city in America. We’ve served at the highest level here in Los Angeles. I want to make sure that those who survive can come back and get a job.”

The crowd of Legion Family members erupted in applause as the mayor spoke. Garcetti expressed the importance for those who have served to make sure we have a voice, “a neutral, non-partisan voice, but a voice that The American Legion allows us to have.” Because one of the most important things The American Legion does is lobby on behalf of veterans. “At a moment when this country tells us that everybody is divided, I say respectfully B.S.,” said Garcetti. “Look at this room, this is America.” Los Angeles is a place of inclusivity and diversity, where we are all welcome and this post is just one place where our devotion to mutual respect is practiced.

“We stay out of all the partisan stuff, but it certainly is going to be valuable for The American Legion to have a guy who is a mayor, who’s a Legionnaire, who’s a veteran because he is going to put veteran interests forward,” said Post 43 Commander Fernando Rivero.

American Legion Post 43 is undergoing a physical restoration that is representative of the spark in quality membership. “At this time, in this post, it’s an incredible honor to be a member of Post 43. This building represents the strength of this city, the strength of this nation, and the strength of men and women who have fought and in many cases died for this nation,” Garcetti said. “So count on me not just to be a member, not just to be a mayor, but to be a proud Legionnaire.”

Rivero, Post 43’s first post-9/11 commander, was enthusiastic about swearing in the mayor as a fellow Navy veteran. “It’s part of a new beginning for The American Legion here in Hollywood and Los Angeles, and I think a great moment for the rest of the country to see that new veterans are stepping up to be Legionnaires and take part in this great movement so we can continue to be of service to the community, the state and the nation,” Rivero said.

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Membership effort set for New Mexico

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American Legion national staff will team up with Department of New Mexico Legionnaires for a membership and veterans outreach effort Dec. 9 in both Grants and Albuquerque, N.M. Veterans and active-duty military in both areas are invited to get information about American Legion programs, and Department of Veterans Affairs and other veterans benefits.

Both efforts will take place from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. at Malpais American Legion Post 80, 121 Third St., Grants; and at Albuquerque American Legion Post 99, 540 Louisiana Blvd. NE, Albuquerque.

A veterans service officer will be available at both locations to assist with VA claims and other benefits questions.

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Veterans outeach headed to Arizona

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National staff is teaming up with Department of Arizona Legionnaires for veterans outreach and revitalization efforts in the Tucson and Phoenix areas later this week. Veterans in both areas are invited to get information about American Legion programs, and Department of Veterans Affairs and other veterans benefits.

The outreach efforts will take place at two locations:

• 9 a.m.-3 p.m., Dec. 1-3. John P. Burns American Legion Post 36, 5845 E. 22nd St. Tucson.

• 9 a.m.-3 p.m., Dec. 4-6, Luke-Greenway American Legion Post 1. 364 No. 7th Ave., Phoenix.

A veterans service officer will be available from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. all three days at both locations to assist with VA claims and other benefits questions.

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Legion reaching out to California veterans

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Department of California Legionnaires will team up with American Legion national staff for a district revitalization and veterans outreach effort in two locations starting Dec. 7. Veterans and active-duty military in the Vacaville and South Gate areas are invited to get information about American Legion programs, and Department of Veterans Affairs and other veterans benefits.

The effort will take place at the following locations:

• 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Dec. 7-8 and 9 a.m.-noon Dec. 9 at Rago-Christopher American Legion Post 165, 549 Merchant St., Vacaville.

• 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Dec. 8-9 at South Gate American Legion Post 335, 9535 California Ave., South Gate.

A county veterans service officer will be available at both locations to assist with VA questions and other benefits-related issues.

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