'It's almost like a buddy check'

American Legion National Commander Bill Oxford recently reached out to Legion membership requesting that Legion posts and Legion Family members resume buddy checks that started last March.

For Department of Arizona Commander Ken Queen, that’s what the department’s recent revitalization effort was able to accomplish. In addition to transferring more than 160 headquarters post members into local American Legion posts, the effort also provided an opportunity to check on current and former members.

Legion Family members gathered Oct. 24-26 at Luke-Greenway Post 1 in downtown Phoenix, making phone calls and going door-to-door to connect with fellow and former members. That kind of outreach matters.

“It says to them that we care about them as individuals, not just as members,” said Queen, a former department membership director. “It’s a good thing to share that feeling with them. They deserve our support in any way we can give it to them. It’s almost like a buddy check – just reaching out to them to see how they’re doing. Calling them like this … is a good opportunity for us to reach out and touch them and see what they’re concerns are and help them out.”

For Queen, revitalizations are “a good time for all of us to get together. Oftentimes we don’t get together because we’re in different districts (that) meet individually. An event like this … we try to get people from the south, from the north and from the Central Phoenix area. And we were successful in doing that. We’ve had folks from all over the state participating.”

Those folks included Ben Headen, a candidate for department commander and past department membership director, who drove nearly 200 miles each way to take part in the revitalization.

Headen’s goal was to grow membership wherever he could. “For me, it doesn’t matter which post get the benefits, as long as we’re getting benefits across the board,” he said. “Yes, I belong to Post 20 in Tombstone, Ariz., but any post I walk into I may feel like it’s my post and I belong there.”

Headen believes moving a member into a local post is critical in keeping that member. “If we can get a member into a brick-and-mortar building and show them what we’re doing … then we can invigorate their passion to maybe get involved,” he said.

Arizona National Executive Committeeman Judi Beischel, who worked the revitalization all three days, agreed. “We want them where they can meet some of the people in their post, get involved (and) come to the meetings,” she said. “Being in (the headquarters post), they really have no contact with other veterans. They lose that camaraderie. We want them to be a part of the organization and participate in events in the community.”

But even after those members have been transferred to a local post, Beischel said her work isn’t done. “I’ve always felt that you should introduce somebody (new) that walks in the door,” she said. “If you don’t know them, I try to make it a point to go up and introduce myself, give them a tour of the post, introduce them to any officers that might be there. It makes them feel more at home.”

A member of American Legion Post 58 in Fountain Hills, Beischel is passionate about American Legion membership. “I love doing revitalizations. I’ve been doing them since I was district commander and before,” she said. “No matter where we have them in the state I try to make it a point to put them on my schedule. We’ve gone to Tucson. We’ve gone to Yuma. Me and (Alternate National Executive Committeeman Andres Jaime Jr.) regularly go and try to have the people that are there working know that we’re working alongside of them. I wouldn’t ask my members to come and do anything if it wasn’t something I would be doing with them.”

Like Queen, Beischel sees the phone calls and door-to-door visits as a way to show members they are appreciated. “They need that connection there and to know that we care about them as a veteran,” she said. “We’re trying to relay that information, not just ‘your dues are due.’ I thank them for being a member of the Legion and also for their service, and try to make it on a very personal note.”

Present at Post 1 two of the three days were Department of Veterans Affairs staff who were able to assist veterans visiting the post with information on health care, benefits and VA home loans.

Alongside them, Legion Family volunteers spent anywhere from three to seven hours a day making phone calls. “It shows you the commitment that some of these people have to the organization," Queen said. "Obviously we’re a volunteer organization. To them come in like that shows you the commitment they have in helping the department grow and helping the veterans out there that we reach out and touch.”

American Legion National Vice Commander Robert Liebenow, a member of Hillsboro Post 6 in Oregon, came to Phoenix to take part in the revitalization. He was impressed, but not surprised, by the turnout of volunteers.

“We’re all veterans, so we’re here for the same thing,” Liebenow said. "They want to improve their post. They want growth within their post. It’s just good to see members throughout the state working together as a team, like we did while back in the service.”