Saturday, January 24, 2015
From Shooting Champ to National Candidate to Youngest Attendee
ALBANY — “The American Legion feels like home.”
That’s how teenager Andre Gross summed up his junior shooting experience, starting with Webster Post 942 and culminating with the national air rifle sporter championship.
“Andre is the first New Yorker to take first place” in the national American Legion Junior Shooting competition, New York Junior Shooting Chair Lawrence Behling told the packed room at the Mid-Winter Conference’s Americanism session on Saturday, Jan. 24. In fact, “out of the top 15 shooters” at the national competition, “New York had three.”
Andre said it was “humbling to be in the presence of so many great men and women who served their country,” and spoke of the memorable experience of being a 14-year-old on stage with the national commander at the Legion’s National Convention this past August, where he received a championship medal; and staying on stage to watch Lt. Col. Oliver North, host of Fox News’ “War Stories,” receive the national commander’s public relations award.
“None of this would have been possible,” he said, without his local Webster post and the many Legionnaires at various levels mentoring and encouraging him.
“Each of you have led by example,” he told the Legion audience. “…You can’t imagine the impact of The American Legion on me and my family.”
The Americanism session also covered Red, White and Blue Awards, plans to start a law cadet program, and Sons of the American Legion efforts to educate students on the flag and patriotism. Americanism Chair John Konkol reminded everyone to submit consolidated post reports by the June deadline to be considered for various awards.
Americanism was one of a host of seminars on such topics as American Legion College Alumni Association, ROTC/JROTC, Law and Order, Boys State, Children and Youth, Veterans Employment, National Security, Oratorical Contest, Scouting, Junior Shooting, Protocol, Compliance, Membership.
The leading candidate for national commander, Dale Barnett of Georgia, dropped in on several sessions, starting with the morning public relations workshop, where he emphasized the need to get the word out. “If people know what The American Legion does…how diverse we are…it’s going to attract membership.”
He pointed to posts like his own that are “in the media several times a month” for “doing a lot of work for God and country in our community.”
An Octoberfest greeted attendees during breaks between the afternoon sessions. Queens County Legion has hosted a themed courtyard hospitality area at the Mid-Winter Conferences, and this year was no different as costumed Auxiliary and Legion members entertained conference-goers.
Some participants stood out for their appearance and size.
For example, Santa Don Guernsey was taking an early Christmas request from a Legionnaire jokingly eyeing the position of department commander.
And 7-year-old Jordan Mahar, proudly sporting a SAL cap, was attending his second Mid-Winter Conference with his grandfather, 6th District Vice Commander Robert Gardner of Whitney Point Post 974. Jordan has been a member of the Sons of the American Legion for four years and has already participated in two national conventions.