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North Carolina Legion Riders pony up when it comes to membership

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The weather didn’t always cooperate, but that didn’t stop North Carolina American Legion Riders from finishing what has now become a 10-year tradition during the first week of April.

More than 70 Legion Riders took part in the department’s annual Pony Express Ride, an across-the-state motorcycle ride designed to collect new and renewal membership forms to deliver them to department headquarters in Raleigh.

The ride left Pleasant Island Post 129 in Carolina Beach the morning of April 6 and arrived at Bessemer City Post 243 at approximately 6:15 p.m. April 7. The ride delivered 123 new and renewed American Legion Family members while continuing to raise awareness about both The American Legion and the Legion Riders.

Money also was raised for both the department’s Veterans Service Fund and Colon Furr Memorial Nursing Scholarship, The American Legion Legacy Scholarship Fund and the USS North Carolina.

The Pony Express Ride is the brainchild of Rora Kellis, a member of Post 296 in Vass, N.C., who also sits on the department’s Membership Committee and chairs its Reconnect Committee. The idea started when the department was already doing a membership round-up and Kellis thought bringing the Legion Riders into the mix would help “add validity to The American Legion Riders and show that they’re an asset to the department. The department at the time was a little skeptical of these ‘bikers.’”

The Riders provided an escort to the 2008 membership round-up, “It went well,” Kellis said. Looking at changing the format for 2009, Kellis found that American Legion Emblem Sales carried an American Legion Riders Pony Express Tack. It was decided the tack would be awarded to Riders who took part in the event, and that representatives from ALR chapters would deliver new membership and renewal forms into department headquarters the first Saturday in April.

Three years ago the format changed when then-candidate for national commander Charles Schmidt participated in the Pony Express Ride. Riders began going from post to post to collect membership forms, which has been the format ever since.

“We need to be more about … showing folks we really enjoy what we’re doing,” Kellis said. “That’s what the mindset we’ve had. We do have a good time at it. We get together and see people we haven’t seen before and collect a little membership along the way.”

The ride is a Legion Family project that gets strong support from department leadership. Department Commander Carol Barker, a Legion Rider from Henry K. Burtner American Legion Post 53 in Greensboro, has been on multiple Pony Express Rides and this year rode her trike the entire way.

Joining Barker this year was North Carolina National Executive Committeeman Jeff Joyner, Alternate National Executive Committeeman Patricia Harris and Past National Vice Commander Richard Neville.

“This membership drive brings a lot of Legionnaires together … and we get to travel across the state,” Barker said. “We’ve got our vests one. They’ve got ’American Legion’ on them. People see that. People stop to ask questions, so it’s very out in the public eye. They’ll able to interact with The American Legion in a very positive way.

“We also stop at several posts every day. Most of the time we try to pick small posts that don’t necessarily see us – especially the department commander. “

Department of North Carolina Membership Chairman Bob Barker, Carol’s husband, said interacting with the small posts is a big part of the ride. “We go to these that sometimes think they’re not seen as posts,” he said. “We’re out in these areas visiting these posts. They’ll show up for this event at the hubs where we start. It’s very important that we do this so they know they’re not forgotten.”

Kellis works with Pony Express Road Captain Curtis Cash, chairman of the department's Legion Riders Committee, to plan the route each year. Cash, a member of Post 124 in Apex, N.C., has served as road captain on the past three rides and said planning normally starts in October.

“We look at what we’ve done in previous years, and we try to hit parts of the state that we bypassed last year,” he said. “About 1,000 miles is what we’re looking for everyone to do a round-trip.”

This year’s route traveled 596 miles from start to finish and included stops at 11 Legion posts. Legion posts provide refreshments for the Riders along the way, and a larger Legion post typically hosts an evening reception each day.

Cash said the Legion Riders are the ideal ambassadors for The American Legion on a ride like the Pony Express.

“People who ride motorcycles are probably the most giving segment of the community that you’re going to find anywhere,” Cash said. “When they come into The American Legion, it’s just a matter of “we’re going to ride.’ And when we wear The American Legion patches, it’s just a given that people are going to know immediately that there’s an American Legion in town, and these guys are out there doing it. It’s what we did before we joined The American Legion, and it’s what we do now. It’s inherent in who we are.”

For the department commander, finishing up the ride was “a sense of excitement of the accomplishment that we did – especially for us this year because Saturday was pouring down rain and 40-degree weather,” Barker said. “And I guess there is a sense of sadness. You know you’re probably not going to get to see these people again until next year. But you feel good when the ride’s over.”

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Legion Family utilizing World War I memorial grants for remembrance

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On April 5, the 100 Cities/100 Memorials matching grant challenge – sponsored by the Pritzker Military Museum & Library in Chicago and the national U.S. World War One Centennial Commission (WW1CC) – announced its final 50 awardees, and nine projects with American Legion involvement were among them. Each awardee will receive $2,000 to help restore and publicize a World War I memorial.

The Emile Ladnier World War I Memorial in Ocean Springs, Miss., has been a labor of love for local Post 42, named for Ladnier, the only resident of Ocean Springs to die during the war. The memorial is set in a space known as Pershing Square. To develop the site and memorial, memorial bricks were sold honoring veterans from World War I on. According to project chairman Richard Eckert Sr., the grant will add to the building fund established by profits from the memorial bricks.

Eckert was one of the first to make a submission to the 100 Cities/100 Memorials site, and WW1CC used the information he supplied on the process of getting the Ladnier project completed to develop a how-to video that has gotten more than 500 hits.

At the 2016 American Legion National Convention, during Jim Yocum’s year as commander of SAL Squadron 283 in Pacific Palisades, Calif., a speech by a WW1CC representative inspired the squadron to look for a memorial to restore. They approached WW1CC itself; according to Yocum, “The commission took a special interest because of the relative scarcity of World War I memorials in the western United States, which mirrored the small population 100 years ago.” In the end, the memorial plaques to both World War I and World War II at the Santa Monica (Calif.) Memorial Open Air Theater, on the grounds of the local high school, were selected.

The squadron supplied the labor, and worked with Post 283 on fundraising. Yocum said of the reasons the squadron took this on, “First and foremost, it was a new aspect to our work with veterans: the paying of final respects.” He also noted that the original 1921 dedication ceremony of the World War I plaque was overseen by Bay Cities Post 123 of Santa Monica, which Post 283 has been attempting to revitalize. And the re-dedication ceremony, held in July 2017, included both descendants of one of the veterans named on the plaque and students from the high school, providing the perfect opportunity “to educate … about the lives of those 100 years earlier, which in comparison weren’t so different after all.”

E.G. Price is commander of Havens-Cannon Post 24 in Anadarko, Okla. Their grant will go toward completing the preservation of a doughboy statue and foundation that had been part of the Caddo County Veterans Memorial, outside the county courthouse, since 1922. Given that the post received its initial charter in 1919, Price stated that “the 100 years [since World War I] is important to us.”

The effects of both weather and vandalism had taken their toll on the statue over the years, so it was brought inside the courthouse in its own well-lit alcove near the entrance. Price said of the preservation work already done, “He is now a restored statue …. He looks like an active warrior who has been through what World War I fighters went through.” The memorial plaza was completed in 2011; the statue looks out over its old home. As for the other benefit of being chosen by the 100 Cities/100 Memorials challenge, Price concluded, “We are pleased that the sum total of efforts throughout the years has resulted in the designation ‘World War I Centennial Memorial.’”

The project of George A. Fitzgerald Post 65 in Dell Rapids, S.D., has focused on improvements to Dell Rapids Veterans Memorial Park. According to past post adjutant/commander Tom Reecy, in 2014 a local businessman contacted him. “He and his wife (both post members) wanted to upgrade the veterans park and better the first impression of the town,” Reecy said. The post got on board with sponsoring the upgrade, and the project is currently in development.

“It is a real honor to be part of the team,” Reecy added, calling them “a small group of patriotic veterans working to support all veterans.”

Phil Neighbors is with the project of Paul Garrett Post 121 in Mangum, Okla., involving Veterans Memorial Park in nearby Granite. His great-uncle fought in France “together with numerous other men from Southwest Oklahoma … in the 36th Infantry Division,” Neighbors said. Now, a new monument in the 1952-established park will honor the men of the 36th.

Work continues on the cleaning and restoration of two existing World War I statues, “the centerpiece of our park,” as Neighbors put it. The new memorial will go beside them. Ironically, it was the Legion post that repaired and placed them in the park in 1979, after decades spent on top of a bridge and then in a local barn.

The dedication is set for this fall, around the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Saint Etienne; on Oct. 8, 1918, the 36th alone suffered 1,300 casualties. Ultimately, six area soldiers were killed in action and buried in local cemeteries. “Virtually every little country cemetery has a military marker of a Greer County citizen who served with the 36th Division,” Neighbors said.

Post 72 in Wellesley, Mass., is among the participants in the project seeking to put the finishing touches on the World War I-era Memorial Grove in Wellesley Hills. Representative Tory DeFazio saw information about the grant challenge in The American Legion Magazine in 2016, and decided to take the initiative.

The grove was created by a special town meeting in January 1919. “Unfortunately, (it) was never completed as envisioned by the park commissioners at the time,” DeFazio said. “So it fell to us to complete it and make everyone aware of it.” Six Wellesley residents died during the war; trees were planted in their honor (as they were for all the local veterans), and their names were listed on a boulder created in 1968 for the 50th anniversary of the armistice.

“Now it has the designation as a ‘World War I Centennial Memorial,’ adding to its enhancement,” DeFazio added. The dedication of the grove will held in May during a town-wide weekend celebration that will include a veterans parade on Sunday afternoon.

More information about the winners, the grant challenge and the centennial of World War I can be found through

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In it together: Fighting global health threats takes partnerships

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FALLS CHURCH, Va. — As communities around the world continue to face health threats, global partnerships have growing responsibilities to battle global health threats.  Military Health System leadership remains committed to advancing the Global Health Security Agenda, recognizing the need for collaboration across sectors, governments, and areas of expertise.

“We are up against a perilous rise in infectious disease outbreaks threatening the health and safety of our citizens, as well as threatening geopolitical stability,” said Thomas McCaffery, Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs while speaking at the 2018 Medical Support Operations Conference in London.

While global health threats are intensifying, collaborative efforts to combat them continue to grow. Through the Global Health Security Agenda, also known as GHSA, the Department of Defense is committed to working to prevent, detect, and respond to infectious disease threats, McCaffery assured. GHSA-supported health activities, such as biosurveillance and coordinated response plans, prevented the spread of 25 major outbreaks in 17 countries in 2017.

The DoD worked with the Uganda Ministry of Health to help stop an outbreak of Marburg virus in October. Medical countermeasures were developed and technical assistance was provided to the Uganda National Task Force and Rapid-Response Teams. Through a partnership with the Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute last year, DoD also helped identify and contain an outbreak of Anthrax. The department provided diagnostic and protective equipment, and helped improve detection and response capabilities to quickly contain the outbreak.

In addition, the Defense HIV/AIDS Prevention Program partners with militaries from 57 countries to help lower the incidence of HIV and AIDS. This was done by training health care workers, equipping laboratories, promoting health education, and providing training against stigma and discrimination. Overall, HIV testing and counseling services were provided to more than 1.1 million people last year, while 139,000 individuals received antiretroviral therapy.  The program also reached 6,000 HIV-positive pregnant women with life-saving treatment to reduce mother-to-child transmission.

 “[O]ur ability to work in a concerted global effort across … nations, the private sector, academia, and non-governmental organizations is not just smart leadership. It’s a strategic, moral imperative,” said McCaffery, stressing the impact of health threats on economic stability, food security, development, and private-sector growth.

The connection between global health security and national security is evident in bioterrorism, readiness, and stability, McCaffery said. The U.S. capacity to prevent, accurately detect, and rapidly respond to natural outbreaks is critical to address bioterrorism threats, he added.

McCaffery’s visit reinforces the Department of Defense’s role in encouraging others to advance global health security, which provides a framework for the U.S. and its partner nations to work together to combat health concerns. He stressed that global health risks can pose major threats to citizens at home and abroad by destabilizing communities, leaving nations vulnerable to terrorism and conflict, and undermining public order if left unchecked.

 “The bottom line is that defense and security sectors have a real opportunity to use the GHSA framework to increase collaboration and converge our unique assets across all sectors to detect and defeat disease at the earliest possible moment,” said McCaffery.

The first defense-focused panel at the GHSA High-level Ministerial was held in November. Attendees included McCaffery, the Minister of Health of Uganda, and the Deputy Minister of Health of Liberia, as well as panelists from the United Kingdom and Finland. Building on this momentum, defense and security sectors are becoming more engaged in the dialogue around how to leverage their role in reducing global health threats.

This week, the Medical Support Operations Conference focuses on areas where national, charitable, and commercial institutions may be able to cooperate more effectively to deliver greater capability more efficiently to reset community and national health security.

“Global health security is an essential part of our national security,” said McCaffery, stressing the defense sector’s role in advancing the GHSA. “We have come a long way in combatting global health threats, but we’ve got more work to do. And we all have a role to play in using the GHSA framework to increase collaboration, and to unite assets across all sectors to detect and defeat disease at the earliest possible moment.”

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Honor 50 years on

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Estus Smith, adjutant of David Chavez Post 1982 in Ansbach, Germany, reports that the post organized and hosted a Vietnam War 50th Anniversary Commemoration event in the post exchange area of U.S. Army Garrison Ansbach on March 29.

Historical displays were set up, and post and garrison officials were present to hand out pins, buttons and certificates to Vietnam War veterans and widows.

The Ansbach Hometown Herald did a piece on the event, including Post 1982’s role.

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Twitter chat: How strong is your child's disease shield?

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FALLS CHURCH, Va. — The Defense Health Agency Immunization Healthcare Branch is hosting an hourlong Twitter chat starting at 2 p.m. on Wednesday, April 18, to answer questions about childhood vaccinations. The goal is to help military parents recognize vaccines as a way to mobilize the body’s natural defenses, and to be better prepared when seeking immunization for their children.

“The childhood immunization schedule is perhaps the most important tool we have in preventing and eliminating diseases,” said Air Force Col. Tonya Rans, chief of the DHA’s Immunization Healthcare Branch, or IHB. “Vaccines are like a disease shield your children carry with them all the time.”

The routine childhood immunization schedule protects against more than a dozen diseases. It’s prevented thousands of deaths and millions of cases of disease, Rans said, citing statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For example, the number of reported cases of chickenpox declined by 97 percent from the time the vaccine was introduced in 1995 to 2010. Rotavirus vaccine, introduced in 2006, prevents an estimated 40,000 to 60,000 hospitalizations per year. Serious pneumococcal infections among young children have plummeted by more than 200,000 cases over a 10-year period. All three of these vaccines are routinely recommended for children before they reach school age, Rans said.

Pertussis, or whooping cough, is a vaccine-preventable disease that is still prevalent and can be life-threatening, especially among infants. A combination vaccine that protects against pertussis, tetanus, and diphtheria is part of the routine childhood immunization schedule, Rans said. It’s recommended that pregnant women receive certain vaccines, in part to provide passive immunity to newborns for the first few months of life as they begin to produce their own antibodies.

Children in military families that travel and live overseas may be exposed to diseases that are uncommon or absent in the United States, according to global disease surveillance data. Wild poliovirus is still transmitted in parts of Africa and the Middle East, for example, and travelers might need a booster dose of polio vaccine for entry into those regions.

U.S. immunization rates tend to remain high and steady because immunization is required for enrollment in schools and day care facilities, said Air Force Lt. Col. Heather Halvorson, IHB deputy chief. However, there may be just enough unvaccinated people in a given community to enable the introduction of diseases into it. Once a disease is introduced, it becomes much harder to stop its spread, Halvorson said, leaving unvaccinated people highly susceptible to outbreaks.

“Immunization rates are high in the U.S., but it wouldn’t take much for some of these diseases to return,” Halvorson said. “Depending on how contagious a disease is, a community could need an immunization rate of up to 95 percent for optimal protection.”

Dr. Limone Collins, chief of vaccine safety and evaluation for IHB, said rigorous clinical studies are conducted to make sure vaccines are as safe and effective as possible.

“These vaccines are given when they’re given because of a vast amount of data suggesting the times and doses of each vaccine having optimal effect on children’s health,” Collins said.

Questions about childhood immunizations can be sent anytime before the chat to   This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , and experts will be standing by to answer your questions during the event. Be sure to follow IHB at

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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