American Legion News
A few years ago, U.S. Air Force retiree Brandon Curry said a fellow airman had died, and though it wasn't classified as a suicide, Curry felt otherwise. The man, Curry said, had drank himself to death. And Curry said he and others said they'd missed the signs the man was in crisis, which is why Curry is so passionate about The American Legion's Be the One mission to reduce veteran suicide.
Curry – a member of Hardin Post 113 in Elizabethtown, Ky., where he also serves as Sons of The American Legion Squadron 113 commander – was a co-coordinator of a Be the One event Dec. 5 at the post. A U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs staffer was on hand to present VA's S.A.V.E. Training to a group of around 70 Legion Family members and others at the end.
"After going through some suicide-prevention classes through the military, and now, being a part of (Be the One), there were some signs there that some of us did not catch," said Curry, who serves as Kentucky's SAL National Executive Committeeman. "He was actually crying for help, but nobody caught onto it.
"I feel very grateful and honored to be a part of (Be the One). All three (national Legion Family leaders) have taken this mission on to be their project to see it succeed. That's given me a great sense of pride."
Curry said that Be the One "became an initiative that turned into a mission. And like any of us that served in the military, when a mission's handed down, we take the full pledge of it, and we'll run with it and make sure the mission is successful."
"It's important for us to get the awareness out there. Hardin County is very military strong. We're in Fort Knox's backyard. We just want to be able to (provide area veterans) tools to help them or to help somebody else if they might need assistance."
Post 113 member Tom Folsom, who worked with Curry to organize the event, said the timing couldn't be better for such an event, and that having an expert to provide the training is critical.
"It appears, according to the statistics that we have, that veteran suicides are on the rise again," Folsom said. "If we can save one life by doing this, it's absolutely worth it. To have the trained professional here to do this, to help us answer questions … I'm not a training professional, obviously, so I couldn't help answer some of the questions that people might have. Their program mirrors (Be the One), in my opinion."
The training was provided by National Guard veteran Kelly Marcum, who deployed to Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom and is now 50-percent service connected for post-traumatic stress disorder. Marcum now is a mental health social worker who serves as Community Engagement and Partnerships Coordinator at the Robley Rex VA Medical Center in Louisville.
Marcum said that teaming with organizations such as The American Legion is valuable as VA continues to work to reduce veteran suicides – especially among those not in the health-care system.
"Anecdotally and statistically, it's of the upmost importance now for (VA) to involve the community in suicide prevention," Marcum said. "The VA has been somewhat successful with being able to counter suicide with a lot of clinical interventions, evidence-based practices. But at the same time, there are a lot of veterans that are not utilizing VA health care, or maybe not even seeing a veteran service officer.
"So, being able to train community members, have relationships with people like The American Legion – who can now interact with those veterans in a way that we talked about today – is going to prevent suicide for those folks who are maybe coming to a Legion (post) where they feel comfortable … or any other community where they feel comfortable going in and asking for help."
Marcum, who admitted to having suicidal thoughts in the past, said that while VA has several successful suicide-prevention programs, more than half of the nation's veterans don't use VA. The result: "Those veterans are dying by suicide at a continually rising rate," he said, noting the number of suicides by veterans utilizing VA services is starting to drop. "So, what we need to do with you guys is get out in the community. That Be the One attitude is the same thing we're trying to do. Everybody needs to be a suicide preventionist. Everybody needs to have a little bit of training and a little bit of comfortability to see someone … and they look a little vulnerable to you, and be able to go up and say, ‘Hey, are you OK?'"
That's one of the main components of VA's S.A.V.E. Training, which focuses on four key facets:
· S - Signs of suicidal thinking should be recognized.
· A - Ask the most important question of all, "Are you thinking of killing yourself?"
· V - Validate the veteran's experience.
· E - Encourage treatment and expedite getting help.
Marcum admitted it can be difficult to identify someone contemplating suicide, even those who verbalize their thoughts. "The people who talk a lot about suicide kill themselves. The people that don't say anything about suicide kill themselves," he said. "I've never seen any kind of pattern where I can pin them down and say, ‘Oh yeah, that's the person I should have really worried about.'"
That's why asking is someone is OK is so critical, and that anyone can fill that role. "I hope that this is the biggest takeaway that you guys have today," Marcum said. "This is basic life-saving skills for mental health. Just like if someone grabs their chest and falls down … you're going to yell for someone to call 911. You're going to check for breathing … all the things you would do for CPR. You know a little bit to get them to that next level of care.
"That's all you're here to do today. Just know that little bit about how to get them to the next level of care."
In October during the Legion's Fall Meetings in Indianapolis, the organization' National Executive Committee passed Resolution No. 9, which strongly encourages American Legion posts to host VA S.A.V.E. training classes and to invite local community, government agencies, not-for-profits and businesses to participate in the training.
American Legion posts interested in hosting a VA S.A.V.E. training class can facilitate it through their local VA Medical Center's suicide-prevention team. A post can locate contact information for their local suicide prevention team through the Veterans Crisis Line Resource using this link. Once on the website, enter a ZIP code and press search. Then select the box next to Suicide Prevention Coordinators and press search again. Once completed, you will be provided with the closest suicide prevention coordinator and their contact information.
Marcum said he was pleased with the event's turnout. "It was huge. To see that many people in the parking lot when I first came in was very exciting," he said. "And the fact most of them are veterans or veteran-affiliated … is really important, too, because they also know a ton of other veterans. There's something about us as veterans, we gravitate to other veterans. We find them in the community we live in. So, I think it's much more effective … with this group because they're going to be able to have that effect on pretty much their entire environment they go back out to."
That's the hope for Folsom: That the training provided at Post 113 can save a life. "To me, that's the reason we're doing it," he said. "And if that could possibly happen, that would be a miracle. A prayer answered. It would be fantastic."
The first blast of the M1A2 Abrams tank's cannon sent a 120mm round exploding into a small, green target in the distance on a remote training range at the Army base.
Inside the tank's turret, the shot sent shockwaves through Jay Tenison's body — something the Iraq War veteran had not felt in nearly two decades. For just a few minutes on Tuesday, he said firing that tank transported him back to his youthful Army days and back to a time long before a terminal cancer diagnosis would dominate his life.
"I was not prepared for the first boom when I fired my first round, but that's every bit of what I remembered from before, just as awesome — the thunder of doom," Tenison, 39, said shortly after firing the tank's gun at Fort Moore, the former Fort Benning, where Army officials worked for weeks to grant him his dying wish of shooting a tank one last time. "I was a little bit nervous going into it … I just wanted to make sure I did a good job engaging those targets and getting weapons fired on the right locations and killing targets.
"It felt wonderful … knowing I had a large amount of success."
Tenison went nine-for-nine in hitting his targets, calling his return to an Abrams tank gunner position "like riding a bike."
"Everything is still in the same position it was before," he said. "It's an awesome, very functional and capable machine."
Tenison, who is from Phoenix, served as a tank crewman on active duty from 2004 to 2008, according to the Army. He last shot a tank in 2005, while stationed in Germany with 1st Armored Division's 1st Brigade, hitting all but one target with a tank nicknamed Bulletproof. But, as his unit prepared for a deployment to Iraq, Tenison said his days in a tank were short-lived. In 2006, he deployed, spending months fighting in volatile parts of Iraq including Tal Afar and Ramadi. After returning to Germany, Tenison served his final year on active duty at Fort Irwin, Calif., as part of the National Training Center's opposing force, the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment.
After leaving active duty in 2008 as a specialist, he spent five years in the Army Reserve as an engineer while earning bachelor's and master's degrees in electrical engineering, he said.
But it was his days in a tank that proved the most significant from his time in the Army. When he was diagnosed last year with terminal, Stage IV stomach cancer, nearly a year after first experiencing pain after eating, he sat down to consider what he wanted to do with the remaining months of his life.
"I realized I really wanted to do tank gunnery," he said. "I just really wanted to shoot a tank again."
He turned to a popular social media chatroom for soldiers and Army veterans on Reddit — asking the Army page in October 2022 if there was a way that anyone could make his dying wish come true.
"I have 12-18 months left to live, according to my oncologist. My weight is slowly dropping, my hair is slowly falling out, and my strength is leaving me," Tenison wrote. "Before I depart this land of the living, I'd love to feel the thunder of doom inside an Abrams [tank]. Can anybody help this former tanker?"
The response was overwhelming. Hundreds of veterans and current service members chimed in with well wishes and advice on how to make it happen. Despite some solid leads, one year later, Tenison still did not have a date to shoot a tank. He posted again in October, telling the Army webpage that his doctors had given him about three to six months left, and he still wanted to shoot a tank more than anything.
"I'm not looking for sympathy here," Tenison wrote. "I'm looking for help."
And help came.
Officials at Fort Moore got word of Tenison's request, and they did everything they could to make it happen, said Col. Ryan Kranc, who commands the Army post's 316th Cavalry Brigade, which trains tankers.
Kranc, who watched Tenison shoot the tank on Tuesday, said they operated under orders to "make this happen no matter what," though it had never been done previously.
"I think for a lot of us whose lives have been touched by cancer, this really spoke to us," he said. "There was a lot of effort and outreach by a lot of different people. I think it was a fantastic team effort. We often call this the ultimate team sport, and I think what you saw today was a giant touchdown by the entire team."
After getting to know Tenison on Monday, when the veteran arrived at Fort Moore to run through a tank simulator, Kranc said he was not surprised he was able to hit every target during live fire.
"He's a quick learner and there's a bit of muscle memory with it," he said.
After the shoot, Kranc inducted Tenison into the Order of St. George, an honor for high achieving tankers and cavalry scouts. St. George has long been known as the patron saint of mounted warfare, he said.
Tenison said Tuesday would go down as one of his favorite memories. He said the experience helped him remember the things that he loved about being a tanker — the feel of the trigger and the blast and the smell of a spent round.
"That's a smell I haven't smelled in a long time," he said holding one of the shells from a round that he had fired. "I love that smell."
Tenison planned to include footage of the tank shoot in a video that he is making for his 6- and 8-year-old daughters to watch when they are older. He hopes they will be proud of his military service, he said.
"I'm going to tell them that this was every bit about me being a part of the military even though I left" years ago, he said. "I hope I can explain to them that this, today, was a huge thing, and it shows what can happen when a community supports itself."
With the tank shoot crossed of his list, Tenison said he was down to two other items skydiving and piloting an ultralight airplane.
"This was something that has left me really awestruck and inspired," he said. "I feel like I owe a huge debt of gratitude to everybody that made it happen."
It's hard to believe that anything new can happen in the 124th edition of the Army-Navy Game, but a significant first will occur the moment Saturday's opening kickoff sails into the air.
For the first time, the game (3 p.m. kickoff, CBS TV network) will be played in New England – Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass. – and fans might be expecting a classic, close-fought, ground battle. But that might not happen.
With Air Force topping Navy 17-6 in October and Army upsetting Air Force 23-3 last month, Army (5-6) is in position to win the Commander-In-Chief's Trophy outright for the first time since 2020 if the Black Knights can top the Midshipmen. If Navy (5-6) wins, the round-robin competition will end in a tie and the 170-pound, 2.5-foot-tall, silver and black prize will be retained by Air Force, which won the trophy last year.
The 2023 football season saw some significant changes for both squads. Army, which had been the most run-centric team in the nation, added a shotgun-set passing attack about 15 percent of the time – far less than most opponents, but still a significant increase for the cadets. The new style of play produced inconsistent results, as Army stumbled to a 2-6 record entering the Air Force game. Brilliant Army defense forced six Air Force turnovers and held then- 8-0 Falcons to 155 yards on the ground and just 259 total yards. But the offense still struggled. Through 10 games, Army was averaging 192.8 yards per game on the ground and 112 through the air.
Everything changed in Army's most recent game against Coastal Carolina. The shotgun was abandoned, quarterbacks Bryson Dailey and Champ Harris returned to starting behind center Brady Small, and the "triple option" was resurrected from the Army bag of tricks. This was old-school Army football – 348 rushing yards, zero passing yards and a strangling 39:51 minutes of ball possession that forced the visitors to rely on trying low-percentage big plays.
"We felt like we needed to run the football, and so we've been kind of working on some of the under-center stuff and having it ready and having it prepared and felt like this was going to be the best approach to start the game," said Army Head Coach Jeff Monken after the win. "I don't know that I anticipated we were going to stay in it the entire game, but we were moving the football and controlling the clock and scoring, and so we stuck with it."
Navy also adjusted to a new style of play this year, as first-year Head Coach Brian Newberry brought some changes to a team that had failed to win more than four games in any year since 2019. The Midshipmen have won two of their last three outings and are gaining confidence with each contest. The chance to deny Army the CIC Trophy is extra motivation.
"I think our players' mindsets are so important, that their psyche is in the right place," Newberry said. "You don't want your kids to get uptight or to press. You want to be laser focused and dialed in. My job as head coach is to make sure we're in the right state of mind. There's a lot of similarities between our two teams – just look at their defense and look at ours. They play extremely hard. They're extremely physical. They fly around. They know what they're doing, They're well coached. They play fast. I have lot of respect for how they play the game."
Army's strengths start with a defense led by senior linebacker Leo Lowin, who has 83 tackles and is third in the nation with four forced fumbles; linebacker Jimmy Ciarlo (51 tackles) and safety Quindrelin Hammonds (58 tackles).
Offensively, Dailey leads Army in rushing with 817 yards and seven touchdowns on 188 carries. He has also completed 53 of 106 pass attempts for 859 yards with six touchdowns and 6 interceptions.
The Navy offense is led by senior quarterback Xavier Arline (23-42 for 320 yards and two scores), with another senior, Tai Lavatai (40-75 for 522 yards and five TDs), questionable after missing the last 4 games with an injury. The Midshipman are led on the ground by sophomore fullback Alex Tacza (724 yards).
The Navy defense features seven players with at least 40 tackles, led by Colin Ramos (94 Tackles) linebacker Will Harbour (76) and junior free safety Rayuan Lane III (62).
December 7, 1941, is forever emblazoned in history as the day of infamy. But it was more than that. For Americans the attack was personal. In the weeks that followed, recruiting offices extended operating hours to accommodate the thousands of Americans who lined up to answer their nation's call and exact retribution on those responsible. The day ushered in our nation's entry into a war that would claim more than 407,000 American lives.
It's personal for The American Legion as well. The Preamble to the Constitution of The American Legion directs us to "preserve the memories and incidents of our associations in all wars." This includes remembering the 2,403 Americans killed during the attack, the thousands more wounded and the countless witnesses who were forever changed.
To this day our friends in the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) continue to identify the remains of those who were killed in the attack but remained unknown due to limitations in scientific technology. One such hero was Navy Mess Attendant 1st Class Ralph M. Boudreaux of New Orleans. Stationed on the USS Oklahoma, Boudreaux's battleship was struck by multiple Japanese torpedoes before it capsized. The 20-year-old sailor was among the 429 Oklahoma crewmen who died from the attack.
Eventually, Oklahoma's "unknowns" were interred at the National Cemetery of the Pacific before being exhumed in 2015 for scientific analysis by DPAA. Boudreaux will be returned to his family next month for burial in Slidell, La.
The American Legion is extremely supportive of the DPAA's mission to provide the fullest possible accounting for the missing heroes of all wars involving the United States. If you are related to someone who is MIA, you may be able to donate a DNA specimen and assist in identification efforts.
Preserving the memories of the fallen is no doubt easier when there are living eyewitnesses. The challenge is to continue the same respect when all are gone. Every veteran of World War II can rest assure that The American Legion will forever honor their sacrifice and service. I hope to convey that message to any Pearl Harbor survivor that I have the privilege to meet as I attend official observances today.
Visiting the USS Arizona and the other Pearl Harbor memorials is not just my duty as national commander of the nation's largest veterans organization. It's personal.
American Legion Family members of Pat Tillman Post 117 in Phoenix, Ariz., are delivering Christmas cheer by mail to deployed servicemembers. Over 21,000 Christmas cards are on their way to military men and women who will be away from their loved ones this holiday season.
"We want them to know that there's an American Legion here in Phoenix, Arizona, that really cares for them," said Auxiliary Unit 117 President Christine Rodriguez, who organizes the card signing, now in its sixth year. "That each message on the card is heartfelt and that we do appreciate them, and we do hope that they know they're loved, even though they don't know us, America does love them. We specifically love them here at the Post 117."
That's not all. There's more holiday cheer from the Post 117 Legion Family – a shipment of 40 care packages filled with toiletries, chocolate, gum, granola bars, the Christmas cards, spices and more are also on their way to deployed servicemembers.
"We are trying to let them know that we love them, and we appreciate them. They're putting their lives on the line for us," said Unit 117 2nd Vice President Char Myrick, who organizes the care packages and understands sacrifice coming from a military family and a father who was in law enforcement. "Their families are also sacrificing for us. If we send some packages, it makes life easier for them. I just want to make life easier for them because of what they're doing for us."
The Christmas cards and care packages "makes my heart soar," said Post 117 Commander Mark Burton. "It's action. It's not just words. We have a little saying, well done is greater than well said. Our American Legion post family, and I accent the word family – our Auxiliary, our Sons, our Riders – make it a commitment to do things, not say things."
The Christmas card signing kicked off in July at the post with a potluck meal and raffle drawing. Post 117 Legionnaires, Auxiliary members and Sons of The American Legion members have signed cards for the past five months, along with other Legion posts in the 12th District and community members who saw the good the post was doing on the news and social media.
"It's an hour or two of (community members coming in and) signing cards, and it will be very impactful for the people that are going to be receiving those cards," said Rodriguez, adding that each card has up to 10 signatures. For District 12, Rodriguez put forth a challenge – the post that signed the most cards would receive $100 from Auxiliary Unit 117. Post 65 "stepped up big time and they gave us 4,000 cards signed," she said, which helped the post surpass its goal of 17,117 cards to over 21,000. "So other posts are really stepping up and helping us as well, and I appreciate each and everyone."
The Post 117 Legion Family knows the impact the cards have on deployed servicemembers. A recipient of a card several years ago, Todd Struble, is now the director of Post 117's Legion Riders chapter. He moved to Phoenix following service and joined Post 117 because of the card. "He said it was something that he never forgot," Rodriguez said.
The Legion Family too sees the impact the care packages, now in its second year, have as they have received photos of servicemembers holding care items in appreciation. One recipient is a post member's son who is stationed in Germany and shares items from the care packages with others in his platoon. And two post members have a granddaughter stationed on the USS Gerald Ford who is looking forward to the care packages along with her shipmates.
Items are collected from Legion Family members and the community thanks to the creative efforts of Myrick's daughter, Victoria, who helped create a flyer and promotes it on social media.
Burton, Rodriguez and Myrick each say that it takes the entire Legion Family to make the cards and care packages possible. "We want to see our veterans put up where they should be and that's in the forefront. This brings the family together because it brings everybody together, our Riders, our Sons of The American Legion, our Axillary unit, all get behind this."
"It's not just an Auxiliary thing. We have the backing of each and every one that's in this post," Rodriguez said.
Last year when Myrick brought the care package idea to the post, worse case scenario was that "we would be able to send out items and help a lot of our military, and it's going to make our family be that much stronger. I wanted to have something that was not for one entity of the post, that it was for everybody to come together and work together as a family because our post really is one big family. We look out for each other, and we try to help each other. I just thought this (care packages) is something that affects all of us in one shape or form."
Dec. 13 is the birthday of the National Guard. According to Military.com, "In a move that would create the first militia on the North American continent, the Massachusetts General Court in Salem issued an order on Dec. 13, 1636, requiring all able-bodied men between 16 and 60 years old to create a standing Army for protection."
Today, the Army National Guard (and Air National Guard, created after World War II) are active across the country and around the world. Here are some things you may not know about the service branch.
1. Each member of the National Guard is sworn to uphold two constitutions: federal and state. (via military.com)
2. Two presidents have served in the National Guard in its modern structure: Harry S. Truman and George W. Bush. (via military.com)
3. Celebrities who served in the National Guard include actors Tom Selleck, John Amos, Bob Crane and James Garner. (via military.com)
4. The term "national guard" was popularized by Marquis de Lafayette to describe each state's militia. It didn't become an official term until 1916. (via military.com)
5. National Guard soldiers have fought in every single war since its founding. (via We Are The Mighty)
6. Air Guard units have deployed a variety of aircraft and support units to defend the 2,500 square miles of air space around Washington, D.C. (via https://listosaur.com)
7. The Washington, D.C., National Guard is the only federal militia in the National Guard. It is controlled by the president. (via www.part-time-commander.com)
8. Three of the first five divisions to enter World War I were from the National Guard. (via www.part-time-commander.com)
9. The National Guard has its own museum in Washington, D.C. According to its website, "The National Guard Memorial Museum is the first and only national museum dedicated to telling the story of the National Guard." Go to www.ngef.org/national-guard-memorial-museum to learn more.
10. In 2016, the National Guard was added to the American Legion Spirit of Service Award, designed to celebrate volunteer activity among active-duty servicemembers in the different military branches.
Just over a year and a half into its existence, Task Force Movement (TFM) – the public-private initiative started by the Biden-Harris administration in April 2022 to get the veteran-connected community certified and into job fields in dire need of personnel – has already added a third area of emphasis: health care.
On Dec. 12, the TFM board will meet at the Washington, D.C., office of The American Legion. As a member of the steering committee with a centrally located facility, the Legion has hosted TFM meetings in the past, as well as a reception for honored veteran truckers last December.
Strengthening the national supply chain, which was stretched to its limits during the COVID-19 crisis, was a prime motivating factor in standing up the initiative, which includes among its partners everything from trucking companies to federal agencies, community colleges to the AFL-CIO, and more.
As well as updates on the first two areas of the initiative – trucking and cybersecurity – and on the newest health-care area, the board will discuss its fundraising and philanthropic efforts, such as scholarships for training and certification.
A primary Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) research program hit its goal but it is not stopping there.
The Million Veterans Project (MVP) reached its milestone on Nov. 8 when the one millionth veteran was added to the research program, which was launched in 2011. The goal of MVP is to collect information from veterans and analyze it to improve VA health care and services.
Jennifer Deen, associate director of Cohort and Public Relations in VA's Office of Research and Development, talked about goals moving forward.
"So, what's next?," Deen said. "We have a lot more work to do. A couple of our high impact goals for the cohort in general is making MVP more accessible and bringing MVP to the veteran through the ways that are most convenient to them."
Those include sending a kit to the veteran, opening new locations and more.
Deen also said VA wants to increase the numbers of the underrepresented populations. Of those already signed up:
• 90% are male.
• Three in four are white.
• 18% of participants are black and 8% are Hispanic, including some who identified as being multiracial.
The average age is 67, with more than one in three between the ages of 70 and 79. Overall, 81% are 50 or older.
By diversifying those numbers, it would help create better health-care solutions for all veterans. So VA is encouraging veterans with diverse backgrounds to sign up for MVP.
"We want to bring that value back to the veteran at the point of care," Deen summarized. "The future looks really bright for MVP. We want to increase diversity and bring MVP to the veteran to let all veterans be a part of this. Expanding that data access so researchers, inside and outside VA, have the ability to impact research and help us with our next goal and scope of the project. And it will be something our physicians can use in the real world."
For the members of SAL Squadron 105 in Belleville, N.J., the holiday season truly is a "Season of Giving."
"Everything we do as a squadron is for the benefit of others," said Squadron 105 Commander Steve Sangemino. "We're always going to be there to help someone in need, whether it's a brother, a veteran, or anybody in the community."
The squadron and Legion Family in Belleville are managing a toy and clothing drive. Around $4,000 in toys and clothing have been ordered since fundraising began with a "Christmas in July" event, and more donations are coming in.
Squadron 105 Adjutant Rusty Myers noted that anyone in need can drop by the post on Dec. 14, when toys and clothing are distributed, and anything left over will be distributed to the needy in the community afterward.
"As an American Legion family, I'm very proud that the SAL is very active, and now that we have the American Legion Auxiliary there helping also with all that they do for veterans and in support of the Four Pillars," said Post 105 Commander Joseph Cobianchi.
The squadron is also conducting a 50/50 raffle to benefit the Fisher House Foundation, which builds comfort homes where military and veterans families can stay for free while a loved one is in the hospital. Over the past four years, the squadron has raised over $6,000 through the raffle to donate to Fisher House.
"I'm very proud of our SAL family. When something needs to be done, we just do it," said Squadron 105 First Vice Commander James Elsmore.
The squadron's giving spirit began even before the holidays.
At the squadron's general meeting in November, donations of $250 each were made to the Children's Organ Transplant Association (COTA), The American Legion Child Welfare Foundation (CWF) and Operation Comfort Warriors (OCW). Those donations highlight the SAL's support of the Legion's Four Pillars — in this case, children and youth, and veterans affairs.
"This organization is such an amazing force for good, whether it's for our vets, or kids, or our community, state, and nation. I'm proud that our members bring to action in every way National Commander Hall's slogan ‘Representing More than Me,'" Myers said.
Kristen Christy is America's resilience coach. Resiliency is an attribute the co-creator of the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline garnered from moving around as a military child, from losing her military husband to suicide 15 years ago, and from suicide attempts by her two sons.
The award-winning author and inspirational speaker takes her own lessons learned from hardship and helps people overcome their disappointments, insecurities and adversaries. She is their tutor for when people are learning tough lessons "because we are not meant to do life alone," she said. Christy is this week's special guest on The American Legion Tango Alpha Lima Podcast, where you learn from the "emotional support human" how to be resilient, how listening gives purpose, and that HOPE is a stopgap to suicide.
Christy put her resiliency skills into play for herself and for her then 14- and 12-year-old boys when their father passed away. She too was resilient for her community, who showed up for her in the hard time. On the night of her late husband's passing, she made one phone call and soon her house was full of friends who cared.
"As humans, we want to have the answers or say the right things," said Christy, a member of American Legion Auxiliary Unit 209 in Colorado Springs, Colo. "But a lot of times it's just being there or doing something," noting that her hairdresser came over to cut the boys hair before the funeral. When she now speaks about resiliency, "I talk about showing up and doing something. Not necessarily saying anything." Noting that people said to her, "He's in a better place", it upset Christy, as she wondered why that better place wasn't at the family dinner table. "It's OK to say, ‘I don't have the words, but I'm here,'" she added.
The loss of her husband prompted Christy in 2010 to advocate for a three-digit suicide prevention lifeline. In 2022, the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline went live nationwide. People can dial 988 and press 1 for veteran support, 2 for Spanish and now 4 for LGBTQ+. She said it's up to us as a community to act if we notice a loved one is not acting like themselves.
"Are you thinking about suicide? We say it's a tough conversation, but it's just an untrained conversation," Christy said. "I can ask that question with no hesitation because I've practiced. I wish I could go back 15 years ago and ask Don if he was thinking of suicide and have him be mad at me (a fear people have). I'd rather have him be mad at me than a 14-year-old giving his eulogy. So ask the question."
Christy said research has shown that if you take 10 people who need mental help, eight just need someone to listen to them.
At 3 a.m., Christy received a phone call from an airmen who wasn't in a good place. She asked the airmen what she liked to do, which she responded that she loved animals. The next day the airmen went to the vet on base and asked to volunteer to walk the dogs "to give her a sense of purpose. And to use your passion to find that purpose is so important. Your identify is not based on what you do. It's based on who you are and what your character is."
Christy said that while resiliency is found in purpose, it is also saying something nice to yourself and to someone else; fostering relationships "because when that test happens, you will have a safety net of people who know you and know that you need;" and having an accountability person who will listen in good times and bad. "When I couldn't get my butt out of bed to take my kids to school, my friends came over and got me up (to take the kids). They weren't enabling (by taking the kids for me). They were encouraging."
Then there's hope.
As a current military spouse, Christy uses a lot of acronyms. HOPE (hold on, pain eases) is one that's on a military bade.
"I've heard hope is not a strategy (for ending suicide), but it can be a stopgap. We can be a stopgap in those few minutes," she said. "I wish people would think about the aftermath. I know a lot of people attempt because they feel like they are a burden. Some say suicide is selfish. I thought that before Don died. But in one of his many notes that he left, he felt like he was burden. I wish I could have told him he wasn't a burden. But we've got to be the one. We've got to be the collective. If we can help one person, it's exponential. One person, one family, one community, one future."
For resiliency, hope and inspiration, visit kristenchristycares.com/.
The Tango Alpha Lima podcast welcomes guest host Matt Jabaut of Maine, who is chairman of The American Legion's Membership & Post Activities Committee. On this episode, Jabaut and co-host Ashley Gutermuth also discuss:
• An Army app that will connect military spouses with on base and nearby employment opportunities, along with child care resources.
• The Army-Navy "clash of uniforms" for the Dec. 9 football game.
• What was the military doing at the Anime convention in New York City?
Check out this week's episode, which is among more than 210 Tango Alpha Lima podcasts available in both audio and video formats here. You can also download episodes on Apple Podcasts, Google Play or other major podcast-hosting sites. The video version is available at the Legion's YouTube channel.