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USAA Tips: How military skills help a career in sales

Content provided courtesy of USAA | By Chad Storlie

Sales roles are some of the most difficult and the most rewarding of any position in business. Sales roles, whether in a major corporation, a small business, a food truck vendor, or on the floor of a retail shop, require patience, skill, good nature, a deep understanding of the customer, and a daily willingness to go above and beyond to help the customer satisfy their needs. A sales role requires you to educate, inform, negotiate, and conclude sales opportunities with a wide variety of different customers and to use different skill sets simultaneously to ensure a solution that meets both the customer’s needs and the needs of the sales organization.

There are several military skill sets that can make a sales role more enjoyable and more successful.

Be an Expert in Your Field & Have the Latest Corporate News.

In the military, a great military leader not only sets the example in their own unit, but also helps other military units succeed. A salesperson is similar to a military leader because a salesperson needs to be a positive physical representation of all that a company is and aspires to be. By no means does a salesperson have to be perfect, but they need to be an expert in their industry and they need to understand both their company’s products and services and how they help their customers excel in their daily operations. One of the greatest benefits a salesperson performs is helping their customers use the company’s products and services to deliver a better service for the customer’s customers. Another core attribute that translates from the military role to a sales role is bringing your customer’s intelligence on how to deliver better to their customers or what the customer’s competitors are doing. Expertise, intelligence, and dedication to the customer are common traits for both military professionalism and sales professionalism.

Be Honest, Conscientious, Respectful & Have Strong Follow Up.

Naming personal qualities of a solid military leader and a sales leader are startlingly similar. We want both to be honest, respectful, conscientious and dedicated to their duty, and have a strong follow up on outstanding issues. In the military, we want our leaders to look out for our personal and professional well-being. In sales, we want a salesperson to look out for the well-being and success of their customers. There is no difference in leadership qualities between military leaders and sales people in my opinion. Both are ethical, honest, and respectful of people and the organizations that they serve.

Listen, Take Notes and Display Initiative When Seeking Solutions.

The best salespeople and military leaders are often quiet, because they are seeking to understand, take notes, listen to what their customers want, and then taking the initiative to generate ideas and options that their organizations can successfully accomplish. In my opinion, a poor salesperson and military leader are loud, boastful, and talk a “solution” before they even fully understand the problem that they are trying to solve. Listening is an underrated skill and a highly appreciated quality for both military and sales leaders. When someone listens, takes notes, ask questions, and then provides ideas for a solution based on what they heard, and not what they have done in the past, we know that person is there to help us find a solution, and not just to provide us an “easy” answer.

Adjust & React to New Priorities Quickly.

Adjusting to changes quickly is a quality the military and sales both experience together. Priorities change due to changes in leadership, actions exhibited by competitors, changes in priorities, changes in strategies, changes in budget, other personnel changes, and different ideas on what the organization needs “today.” Change happens and disrupts plans for leaders in both the military and in sales. What great military and sales leaders do is to react quickly and comprehensively to the changes and deliver another proposal quickly that meets the needs and expectations under the new strategy. Staying with the “old” plan helps no one. Delivering a new plan quickly that addresses the changes in strategy/budget/priorities helps everyone succeed.

Advocate for Your Customer to Create Loyalty.

In the military and in business, loyalty is the best outcome. In the military, loyalty goes “down the line” from military leaders before it comes back up. Lower ranking military personnel need to see, trust, and experience loyalty from their leaders before they provide their loyalty in return. Likewise, for a salesperson and a business, customer loyalty provides the greatest financial rewards for a business and a company. If I create loyalty in a customer, then that customer trusts my products and services and I know I need to be an incredibly strong internal advocate for that customer in my business organization. Loyalty to those led and from / to customers are some of the best personal and business outcomes that military and sales leaders can achieve.

Live a Healthy Lifestyle & Get Home Often.

Military and sales positions are highly stressful. Military and sales positions are where the front line “winning” occurs. Sales and military leaders need to promote their own exercise, sleep, healthy diets, and control their schedules as much as possible to be near family, friends, and other personal support. It is critical to remember, that military units and corporations will never love you and, in fact, are designed to succeed when you leave. Maintaining a strong level of personal and mental fitness means that salespeople and military personnel will continue to have great lives when they leave their organizations and move onto other roles.

Being a successful salesperson and a military leader is difficult and stressful. Consistently acting in the best interests of both organizations while being ethical, honest, creative, and conscientious help ensures a successful career as a military leader and as a sales leader.

Breaking the stereotype of American Legion Riders

The American Legion Riders (ALR) are all-inclusive and welcoming. Any American Legion Family member – Legion, American Legion Auxiliary and Sons of The American Legion – who meet the Riders’ eligibility requirements are eligible to join.

In an effort to reach current and eligible ALR members, the Department of California put together a few videos to present a clearer picture of what the riders are all about. Watch the department videos here.

“Being an American Legion Rider transcends generations,” said Mick Sobczak, head of the Department of California ALR program. Sobczak served in both the Marine Corps and the Army and retired as a combat engineer from the Army. He is a 10-year Legion member and the son of a 32-year Legion member from New York.

The California Legion Riders looked for a way to promote their 89 existing chapters and also improve awareness and membership within the American Legion Family. They are especially looking to include women and younger riders. Past Hollywood Post 43 Commander Jeric Wilhelmsen filmed three rides in California with the help of Dennis Kee, a founder and leader of Chapter 43's ALR program. “We took a ride out to Malibu and down the Pacific Coast Highway,” Wilhelmsen said. The other shoots took them to Bakersfield and Monterey Bay. The videos showed the world-class scenic rides of Southern California but focused on the Riders. Watch Chapter 43's video here.

Sobczak knew Wilhelmsen had the skills to help execute the informative videos. They met when Wilhelmsen filmed the 2017 American Legion Legacy Run, which raises funds for the Legacy Scholarship that supports children of veterans who died on active duty since Sept. 11, 2001, or children of post-9/11 veterans who have a combined VA disability rating of 50 percent or greater.

Wilhelmsen was so inspired by the way Riders from the entire country came together that he wanted to be a part of it himself. He was an integral part of starting a new Legion Riders chapter at Hollywood Post 43. “When I got back to my home post I heard that there was talk about starting a chapter, so I jumped on board and did everything I could do to help out in creating that chapter,” he said.

When the Riders came to Hollywood Post 43 it was a perfect opportunity for Wilhelmsen to use his experience to develop and grow the chapter. “Our chapter really wanted to make splash and make our presence known and have the whole state or country know about us,” he said. “I thought it was important to have a strong social media presence. So I immediately created our Facebook page, our Instagram page; in making those pages we needed content.” Wilhelmsen, a U.S. Army and Army Reserve veteran, now works as a video journalist with experience covering adventure races like the Race Across America.

Kee also gave his skills to the project. He is part of a group of about 18 combat camera people who are members of Post 43.

This video project is intended to show exactly who the Legion Riders are and what they do. “We do a lot of veteran support activities,” Kee said. “We do welcome home activities, we do missions when groups deploy. We’re really proud. We’re just trying to get more Riders and to get everybody excited about it.”

These videos are "to provide awareness and hit different demographics to show that we’re not locked.” Sobczak said. “And being that the Riders are the fastest growing program of The American Legion, we just figured these videos would take us to the next level.”

“It’s exciting to see the Auxiliary and the Sons involved,” Kee said.

One of the videos highlights a female veteran rider named Stephanie Chaing. “I was tired of being on the back seat and I wanted to do my own thing,” Chaing said. “I love riding with a pack, especially the Legion. It’s a proud feeling. I’m passionate about riding because it’s a therapeutic thing for me, but also to be able to come together and experience it as a family.”

“Most people view us as the older guy riding a cruiser, and we use these videos, to show that there’s sports bikes, there’s cruisers, there’s men, there’s women, there’s Auxiliary, there’s (an SAL) squadron,” Sobczak said. “We tried to hit as many demographics as possible with these videos.”

“We are a program of The American Legion,” Sobczak said. “We are Legion Family members serving veterans and our community. We just happen to do it on motorcycle. If you’re in the military family and you want to ride, you’re welcome.”

For Wilhelsen, the filming provided more than expected. “As I got opportunities to visit these various chapters, I was learning a lot of the history about the Department of California: how the Riders first got started here in California and how they developed. I really enjoyed learning the history of this state. As I was doing these interviews I realized that I was getting the history of the Riders. I was capturing a snapshot of the Riders in 2018.”

The Department of California American Legion Riders goal is to have 100 chapters for the 100-year anniversary of The American Legion in 2019.

“Training and membership are very important to me,” said Sobczak, a National Legion College graduate and instructor who helped develop California’s recent Legion College. “I’m a firm believer that if people understand our history and how the process works, we will not only get new members but we’ll retain and maintain active members.”

Wilhelmsen expressed the value of learning the history of the organization and meeting people who were part of some of the first Riders chapters. “I really hope that this archive of interviews of the current state of the Riders in 2018 is valued 50 years or 100 years from now,” he said.







U.S. role in Somalia: 'I think we had to do it'

When U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Thomas Montgomery arrived in Mogadishu, Somalia, in early 1993, he said the smell of death was in the air because of the starvation of babies, children and people – warlords were using food and other resources for their own causes. His mission as commander of U.S. Forces and deputy commander of the United Nations Forces in Somalia was to make sure humanitarian relief got to the people who needed it through the setup of feeding stations. And to disarm the Somalis.

After 13 months in Somalia, Montgomery witnessed the success of the humanitarian efforts, but also witnessed the lives of American soldiers claimed during the Battle of Mogadishu, and ultimately led efforts to rescue the Army Rangers and Delta Force with help from the U.S. Army's 10th Mountain Division, the Pakistanis and Malaysians.

Montgomery, an Indiana native who retired from the Army after 34 years of honorable service that earned him both the Silver and Bronze Star, shared his story to an audience at the Indiana War Memorial in Indianapolis on May 18.

“It very quickly became apparent that nobody is going to disarm Somalia. Nobody is going to disarm Somalia today either,” Montgomery said. “But what people forget is that it was a hugely successful humanitarian effort. Hundreds of thousands of Somalis survived because (the U.S.) and other United Nations did what we did.”

He showed the audience images of a feeding station with children and shared that while visiting one a young child ran over to him and put her arms around his leg and held on. He picked her up and held her. “That baby knew what that (U.S.) uniform meant. And she knew what it meant for them to survive over there.”

Throughout the humanitarian efforts, resistance from the warlords intensified and Montgomery became involved in a third mission that occurred on Oct. 3, 1993, in Mogadishu. That Battle of Mogadishu became known as the Battle of Black Hawk Down, and inspired the award-winning 2001 film. The Task Force Ranger and Delta Force had a mission to capture Somali warlord Mohamed Aidid and his allies, but they were met with strong resistance. “Every Somalian grabbed his gun, RPG, grenade … they came to fight,” Montgomery said.

During the operation, two Black Hawk helicopters were shot down by RPGs. Some wounded survivors were able to evacuate, but others remained at the crash site and were isolated. The battle continued throughout the night until the following morning when a rescue mission was underway.

Over a radio Montgomery could hear the battle going down and the banter from the soldiers, and then could hear that the forces were in trouble. “(The Rangers/Delta Force) were in danger and being overrun. I had to put a plan together. The relief became the second part of Black Hawk Down.” However, Montgomery didn’t have enough strength in armor or heavy forces. So he called both the Pakistani and Malaysian commanders to help rescue the soldiers who were in duress. Each one said, “’Yes, sir.’ There was no resistance; we were all soldiers,” Montgomery said. “We were doing everything we needed to support each other.”

The Pakistanis and Malaysians supplied armored tanks and troops. They followed in the 10th Mountain Division to rescue the Rangers and Delta Force. “And the Battle of Black Hawk Down is over,” Montgomery said.

The battle resulted in more than 70 U.S. wounded and 18 casualties, which included Delta Force snipers Gary Gordon and Randy Shughart, who were posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for their heroic actions. Pilot Michael Durant was captured but later released. Montgomery said that while "Black Hawk Down" is a great war movie that provides a realistic depiction of the ferocity of the battle and valor of the Rangers and Delta Force, it’s about 60 percent accurate as it does not depict the rescue force of the 10th Mountain Division. And many people don’t know that a Malaysian solider died during the battle to save American soldiers.

“I'm very proud of the Malaysian and the Pakistani soldiers that were a part of (the mission), and I am enormously proud of the 10th Mountain Division who got very little recognition,” Montgomery said.

Following the battle, Montgomery received an ample supply of armored vehicles and stayed in Mogadishu for another six months to command the Quick Reaction Force. He departed for home in March 1994, and showed an image of it to the audience. He said it was the first time he could relax after not sleeping a single night through during his time in Somalia. "Because you're always waiting for the next thing to happen," he said.

However, when questioned whether or not the United States should have been over in Somalia, Montgomery said, “I think we had to do it. The humanitarian part of this was very important. We did a good service and a good job.”

Acting VA Secretary Robert Wilkie tapped to lead the department

President Trump announced Friday he is tapping acting Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Robert Wilkie to be the department’s next leader. Wilkie was apparently unaware of his pending nomination, as the president joked he had “ruined the surprise” per a Politico report. Wilkie has led the VA since the firing of former Secretary David Shulkin in late March.

Wilkie’s nomination comes at a crucial time for the VA. The department signed a $10 billion contract with Cerner for a new electronic health record system and the VA MISSION Act of 2018 is poised to pass the Senate next week with the president planning to sign the bill into law by Memorial Day.

Wilkie is a reserve officer in the U.S. Air Force Reserve assigned to the Office of the Chief of Staff. Before his first Pentagon tour, he was special assistant to the president for National Security Affairs and a senior director of the National Security Council under Dr. Condoleezza Rice, according to his official bio.

Long-term direction of VA uncertain; 50 days without a secretary

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has now been without a secretary for 50 days, leaving the organization in a state of limbo. The absence of permanent senior leadership in the wake of former Secretary Shulkin’s firing on March 28 and a high job vacancy rate across the enterprise has left many veterans uncertain about the future strategic direction of the VA.

Despite the glaring deficiencies in both leadership and personnel, VA spokesman Curt Cashour said, “Under President Trump, VA has had its most productive year in decades — we have made groundbreaking progress, particularly in the areas of accountability, transparency and efficiency across the department.”

The American Legion counts 17 major issues that remain unaddressed in the absence of permanent Senate-confirmed leadership at the head of the VA.

The most glaring problem is the high vacancy rate at the VA. As of March 8, the vacancy rate is nearly 9 percent, amounting to more than 33,600 personnel. The Veterans Health Administration (VHA), the hardest hit by the vacancies, is short more than 30,000 health-care providers and administrative personnel. Strangely, not all of the job vacancies are listed on USA JOBS.

“I can’t identify any large corporation or hospital that has a nearly 9 percent vacancy rate and still attests to operating efficiently,” said Louis Celli, American Legion National Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation Division Director.

These vacancies are creating capacity shortages at the VA and pushing more veterans out of the system to seek more expensive community care.

Although there hasn't been a presedential-appointed VA Secretary, acting Secretary of the VA Robert Wilkie has been serving in the capacity as Secretary since March 28, but the page listing his public travel hasn’t been updated in months, marking another black hole in the “groundbreaking progress” the VA has made in transparency and accountability under the Trump Administration, according to Celli.

The other significant issues needing the attention of top leadership include:

• Completion of the $16 billion Cerner electronic health record contract;

• Filling the vacancies with qualified talent — many of the departed personnel held a doctorate;

• Full implementation of the Telehealth program;

• Improvement of the White House VA hotline — many veterans say they never hear back following initial calls;

• Expansion of mental health services for veterans not otherwise qualified for VA benefits due to conditions such as an other than honorable discharge;

• Implementation of the VA’s suicide prevention plan currently at the White House; and

• Completion of the MyVA website.

In the absence of a confirmed secretary, there is concern that the organization will not continue to progress on these issues. And with no name being touted for serious consideration to become the organization’s head, there’s no telling how the VA will continue to devolve over the coming months.

Lambasting the state of the VA is easy. What’s not as simple is finding solutions to the problems plaguing the organization in the absence of qualified leadership. However, some of the issues at hand could be addressed without the nomination of a qualified and vetted individual.

'We look for something to do'

The Morgan Wiles American Legion Post 336, Legion Riders Chapter in Williford, Ark., is just under 18 months old. But the chapter already is making a positive impact on youth in the community.

The chapter recently staged a series of fundraisers and a kick-off ride to collect more than $1,000 to send three local high school students to a summer band camp. It’s part of a commitment to local youth that will drive the chapter, Chapter 336 Rider David Ames said.

“We look for something to do,” said Ames, state director for the Arkansas Legion Riders. “How can we affect the community the best? How can we get ourselves out in the community and present ourselves … as a community group? We donate to veterans' causes, but this was the first time we picked a community-based cause that seemed to us to be relevant.”

Ames said he found out from Chapter 336 Legion Rider and State ALR Vice Director Billie Suiters, whose children attend Highland High School, that some of the children’s friends wouldn’t be able to attend the camp for financial reasons – despite the band and its booster club conducting several fundraisers.

“This area is a low-income area,” Ames said. “We decided as our first community-based ride that we would support that effort so that those kids could go to band (camp).”

Ames said Suiters got the process of raising funds within the community and “it just sort of bankrolled through the community. We had donations, and we had … a silent auction with local businesses. Word of mouth got it out and said, ‘This is what we’re doing.’”

Chapter 336 also staged a 154-mile motorcycle ride around the Ozarks that included food and evening entertainment. All of the proceeds from the ride and after-ride event were donated to Highland School Band Director Greg Bruner to disperse among children in need of help to attend the camp.

The chapter ended up raising $1,054 to send three students to a week-long Dixie Band Camp at the University of Central Arkansas. The camp features several workshops for the children to learn how to play their instruments, afternoon and evening social activities, concerts, outdoor activities and a final-day concert.

Chapter 336 isn’t done, Ames said. This year’s ride was the first of what will become an annual event.

“We will pick a charity or a need for every event,” Ames said. “We’re going to focus on the need of the community for the children, more so than anything else.”

Ames, who spent 33 years in the U.S. Marine Corps, said taking a community approach to assisting others helps provide the right image of The American Legion. “In order to change the perception … let’s do something in the community that’s outside of the realm of (the perception),” he said. “We’re a Legion post that is involved with our youth and our community. I thought that was important, and the post thought that was important, because this was the first way … to really get us out there and involved. And the response was amazing.”

There’s also another benefit to making a positive impact on the community.

“We have a number of young (post-9/11) veterans who don’t see the Legion as a family-based or community-based organization,” Ames said. “Once they realize (we are), we’ll start getting membership. And we’ve already done that.”

USAA Tips: Buying a used car

Content provided courtesy of USAA | By Chad Storlie

Preparing to buy a new or used car is always a major financial undertaking. Buying a used car vs. buying a new car can make good financial sense because it allows you to get a new vehicle (for you!) and not experience the financial depreciation of a new car. However, like all major financial purchases, there are a lot of tips to make a car buying decision much easier. Whether you need to add a second car to your growing family or get that recent graduate in the family their own wheels, here are some tips to help in the car buying process.

What Type of a Car Buyer Am I?

Determining what type of a used car buyer you are is critical for the discussion. For example, do you buy a new car every 2-3 years or drive your car 200,000+ miles and then look for a new one? The point to consider is that buying and selling cars every 2-3 years may not make the best financial sense because of some of the unavoidable car buying costs like taxes, differing insurance rates, depreciation costs and maintenance fees. Before you buy, examine how long it has been since you bought a car the last time. Do you want or need a new car? Making a financial goal to buy a vehicle, pay it off, and keep it for several years before purchasing another car can minimize your cost of owning that vehicle and become a better long-term option financially.

How Much Can I Afford Over the Next 5 Years?

People often look at their car payment within their current budget but then do not fully anticipate the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) of the car over a period of years against their other financial priorities. For example, I can afford the payments for a new SUV in my current budget. However, my spouse and I are planning on buying a house and starting a family in 2-3 years. Suddenly, that new SUV payment may not work against a house payment and a new baby. Additionally, examine maintenance costs for different vehicle types and do some financial war gaming if you have a major car repair ($3000+) or if gas prices rise by 25%. Also, consider a luxury vehicle oil change vs. a non-luxury vehicle which can mean the difference of $40-$50 vs. $300. Under these conditions, can you still afford the repairs, the car payment, and gas and still meet your other financial priorities? It is vital to fully anticipate all the costs and considerations of a newer car towards your personal financial success.

Do Your Research.

Research your existing car against your idea(s) for buying a new car. You want to look at a trusted, independent source such as Consumer Reports that writes assessments of cars by their model years and tracks the reliability of those cars over time. The point is that cars that look great and cars that are great in terms of mechanical reliability over time are not always the same. Certified, Pre-Owned cars might also be an option as they are generally less than 5 years old, sometimes have an extended warranty and other benefits. In addition, looking at car buying services that find a competitive price for you across the country or using one of the many nationwide car dealerships that offer a single, non-negotiated price can make the car buying process much easier. Your research should point you towards highly reliable used cars in 2-3 different models that you can search for in your car buying process. The goal of car research is to do all your research off the car lot.

Take A Pause in Your Buying Process.

Stop. Take a pause for a week and reexamine your reasons to buy a car, your budget, how the car aligns against your financial goals in the next 3 to 5 years, and how your current car stands against the 2 to 3 models that you selected during your research. The point of pausing before purchase is to give you a chance to evaluate all your purchase considerations, give your budget a final look, talk with your significant other or trusted friend again, and ensure that all your financial stars are in alignment before you go to look at cars.

Get Pre-Approved for a Loan Before Shopping.

Before you even set foot on a dealer’s lot compare auto loans from 2-3 sources to determine the total amount you can borrow, the interest rate and any other fees. Like the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) there are more considerations to loans than just the interest rate. Good auto loans have low rates, no fees for early payoff, and perhaps refinancing opportunities.

House takes strides to improve health care for women veterans

American Legion Resolution 147 addresses that women veterans are the fastest growing demographic to serve in the military and to enroll in the VA health-care system. Since 2000, the number of women veterans receiving VA health care has more than doubled and that number is expected to increase as more women veterans become eligible for Department of Veterans Affairs care. The resolution calls on VA to ensure the needs of “current and future women veteran populations are met” and that women veterans are not an afterthought of the VA system.

The House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs made strides last week in addressing some of the gaps when it comes to the health care of women veterans who seek care through the VA.

Sixteen bills passed favorably out of the committee and on to the full House of Representatives for a vote. The bills, including H.R. 5674, the Department of Veterans Affairs Maintaining Internal Systems and Strengthening Integrated Outside Networks Act of 2018 (VA MISSION Act of 2018), included the following two pieces of legislation that focus specifically on the care needs of women veterans:

H.R. 4334, the Improving Oversight of Women Veterans’ Care Act of 2017, will require the VA to submit an annual report to Congress on access to gender-specific services such as maternity care, mammograms, and gynecological care for women veterans. The legislation would also require VA medical facilities to submit a quarterly report on compliance with environment of care standards with a plan to strengthen these standards, according to a release.

H.R. 4635, will direct the VA secretary to increase the number of peer-to-peer counselors providing counseling for women veterans. The legislation would require the VA to ensure that the peer counseling program includes counselors with expertise in gender-specific issues. Indications that women veterans lack access to peer support programs was highlighted in recent legislation. The Center to Improve Veteran Involvement in Care in 2017 released a report on suicide prevention in women veterans. The report found that women veterans are at a disproportionately high risk for suicide and that the number of suicides among women veterans was 490 percent higher than non-veterans.

In the 26 years that have passed since the Veterans Health Care Act of 1992 first authorized the VA to provide gender-specific services for eligible women veterans, the status of women veterans has changed dramatically. A VA population model used by the Pew Research Center estimates women comprise nine percent of the veteran population which is tantamount to 1.9 million people. By 2045, the percentage of women veterans is expected to double, reaching 2.2 million women. During the same time frame, the population of male veterans is expected to drop by nearly half of what it is today.

Women veterans face a unique set of challenges when it comes to receiving care through the VA. According to the VA, women veterans are 30 percent less likely than their male peers to enroll for VA health care and much of this could be addressed by having staff and facilities that are equipped to better handle gender-specific needs.

Exhibit message in Iowa: how the GI Bill happened

Before The American Legion’s traveling centennial exhibit leaves the Iowa Gold Star Military Museum at Camp Dodge in mid-June, some 400 participants of Hawkeye Boys State will have the opportunity to see what can happen when citizens actively participate in government.

A GI Bill can happen.

“The Greatest Legislation: An American Legion Centennial Salute to the GI Bill” – a multi-media display that tells the ongoing story of the veterans benefits package that changed the world – will be at the museum on the nation’s third largest National Guard training post until June 15. That final week of its display, American Legion Hawkeye Boys State, which gives high school seniors-to-be firsthand understanding of U.S. government, will also be at Camp Dodge.

The exhibit, which has been on tour for nearly a year, describes The American Legion’s dramatic battle to get the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944 drafted, approved and passed into law. It highlights the many positive results – such as massive growth of higher education, home ownership for the middle class and a $7 return for every $1 invested by the federal government – and the ways in which the GI Bill has been modified over the years to best serve new generations.

Another lesson is the power citizens can wield in a democracy to solve problems or improve society. The GI Bill is one of history’s greatest examples of that. And, says American Legion 100th Anniversary Observance Committee Chairman David K. Rehbein of Iowa, too few people realize today that the “greatest legislation” emerged from the people, working with their elected officials, not from elected officials trying to convince the people.

“The original GI Bill was passed 74 years ago,” Rehbein said at a Tuesday reception for the exhibit at Camp Dodge in Johnston, Iowa. “Most of the folks that were there at the time, or aware of what was going on at the time, are gone. So, it simply looks like another government program. They don’t realize that (the GI Bill) was created because of an organization that really did the work to be the authors, to get it introduced in Congress and to lobby to make sure it got passed in Congress in the form it was, as one omnibus bill, rather than a series of smaller pieces of legislation that may or may not have passed.”

The socioeconomic successes of the measure can often overshadow the example it sets for government participation, a central theme of American Legion Boys State programs nationwide. “That’s one of the things we are trying to teach them – that they are responsible for the way their government operates,” said Rehbein, a past national commander of The American Legion. “We set up the structure, but we don’t tell them what they have to talk about. We don’t tell them what pieces of legislation they consider. We don’t tell their governor candidates what platforms to run on. It’s their decisions. They are the people who are going to be in charge. They are the people who can do things like this, if a cause comes along.”

Brig. Gen. Randy Greenwood, state quartermaster for the Iowa National Guard, joined the event Tuesday and reflected on improvements to the GI Bill since he first enlisted in 1983. Since then, education benefits for National Guardsmen in particular have improved to the point where the GI Bill is considered one of the Guard’s most valuable recruitment tools.

“Do they have a better situation today than when I got in? Unquestionably. The expansion into graduate work … the ability to transfer (benefits to dependents) under the Post-9/11 GI Bill is really huge," Greenwood said. "For us, it’s a game changer. It keeps us competitive with a robust job market. You can’t really put a value on how it allows us to compete for the best and brightest out there.”

Greenwood said he didn’t qualify for GI Bill benefits after his first four years in the National Guard. Future changes, however, enabled him to transfer improved benefits for the National Guard to his daughters and allow them to finish college with almost no debt.

He added that without the GI Bill, the United States would be unable to sustain an all-volunteer military force.

“The GI Bill, to me, is one of the best values for America ... We get freedom out of it.”

Rehbein, who started his education as the only student in his class at a one-room schoolhouse in Nebraska and went on to become a metallurgist at the Department of Energy’s Ames National Laboratory at Iowa State University, said he hopes this year’s Hawkeye Boys State class understands from the exhibit that “the young men overseas fighting the war at the time were much like them” and that citizens – in this case The American Legion – took a problem and helped solve it for them and for future generations, not only achieving a legislative accomplishment but also setting a moral standard.

“The World War I vets made sure, when they created this legislation, that the World War II generation did not get treated as badly as they did,” Rehbein said. “We are seeing that again today, where the Vietnam generation is working hard to make sure that the people coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan are treated better than they were. That’s a continuing theme among veterans.”

American Legion Department of Iowa Adjutant John Derner said he often tells the story of the GI Bill – then and now – when recruiting members to join the nation’s largest organization of wartime veterans. “I have always taken a lot of pride that this was started by The American Legion. We are an organization that transformed the nation.”

Legion names finalists for Veteranpreneur Contest

The American Legion Family launched a Veteranpreneur Contest in February that invited veterans, servicemembers and their spouses who own a business to submit poppy-themed merchandise for consideration. The finalists and their poppy-themed products have been chosen – see the finalists here.

The winning veteranpreneur will receive up to a $10,000 order for their product which will be sold in the online poppy shop through American Legion Emblem Sales.

The public can cast votes for their favorite poppy-themed product on May 24 at The winner will be announced May 25, National Poppy Day®.

After World War I, the red poppy became the memorial flower of the American Legion Family to honor those who fought and died during the war. The poppy has continued to serve as a symbol of honor and sacrifice, and the Legion Family encourages all Americans to wear or display a red poppy in support of National Poppy Day®.

The Legion's National Poppy Day® website at provides access to the Emblem Sales “Poppy Shop,” which offers an assortment of items such as Poppy Day pins, kits for making lapel poppies for distribution, fundraising containers, charms, scarves and more.

When showing National Poppy Day® support on social media, use the hashtags #PoppyDay and #LegionFamily.

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