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  • Tuesday, September 01, 2015

    ‘You Defend Those Who Defend Us’

    “You are defending those who defend us….Thank you.”

    That’s how Defense Secretary Aston Carter greeted Legionnaires at the opening session of the American Legion National Convention in Baltimore, Maryland Tuesday morning.

    Ashton Carter

    Defense Secretary Ashton Carter

    “Vietnam taught us the hard way, that while we may question the fight, we must respect” the men and women who fight. “You (in the American Legion) are driven by that enduring truth that above all the strength of our defense is in the men and women who wear the uniform.”

    Carter discussed commitments the Department of Defense has around the world, and insisted: “We will deliver a lasting defeat to ISIL (also known as ISIS, or jihadist extremists).” The U.S. is working with a coalition of friends to combat ISIL, he said, adding: “We must have local forces on the ground to sustain defeat” and “we can train local forces, but we can’t substitute for them.”

    He called the Iran nuclear pact “a good deal,” and said the U.S. would continue to protect its friends in the Mideast, including Israel.

    “If you threaten American lives, you’ll answer for it, no matter what it takes.”

    He added that the U.S. military has no equal. “We’re the best.” To remain number one, “we need” innovative technology, a sensible long-term budget, and a “21st Century personnel system.”

    Carter said the DOD was aggressively seeking innovation and pushing research-and-development. However, “It’s not just about the best technology. We need the best people, too.”

    “If we do right by our people, then tomorrow’s veterans will be as good as today’s,” and the security of the U.S. will be assured.

    Former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel also made an appearance – to be awarded the American Legion’s Distinguished Service Medal. Being a Legion member for 47 years and having come from a Legion family, where his father had been post commander and his mother, Auxiliary unit president, Hagel said he was “particularly proud of the honor” – even though “others are more deserving of the award.”

    Army veteran and “Dancing with the Stars” alum Noah Galloway, who lost his left arm and leg to a roadside explosion in Iraq, opened the convention as master of ceremonies. He described sinking into depression after waking up in a hospital minus two limbs. It took a heart-to-heart talk with a Vietnam vet, who spoke of being positive rather than becoming a statistic, and a good look at his children that made him realize that he needed to teach them not to give up in the face of obstacles. He decided to take on one challenge after another to prove he could do anything – running marathon races, getting himself on “Dancing with the Stars” and placing third, becoming a motivational speaker, and founding the “No Excuse” charity to support veterans and youth programs.

    “What we teach and show” youth, he said, “will determine what they’ll be as Americans.”

    He then lauded and introduced the American Legion’s youth champions:

    — Mathew Walsh of Massachusetts, American Legion Baseball all-academic team captain

    — Aravind Byju of Florida, Boys Nation president, who spoke of an “American spirit” that put a man on the moon, led three young men to stop a terrorist on a train, and that recognized “all men are created equal.” Looking out at the sea of Legionnaires, he added: “Your organization embodies that American spirit like no other.”

    — Ethan Copple of Nebraska, Eagle Scout of the Year, who said “Scouting and the Legion are all about doing.” He said we should be “serving, giving and doing rather than talking of” receiving, wanting and entitlement.

    — Rhiam Travis, junior shooting sports precision champion, who thanked the Legion for helping to make her aware of what it truly means to be an American – which would make her stand even prouder under the American flag if she achieves her goal of winning an Olympic medal.

    — Adam McClintock of Arizona, junior shooting sports sporter champion.

    — Greta Minoca of Florida, national oratorical champion, who gave a shout-out “to the best dad in the world.” She entered the oratorical contest on a whim, she said. “One win turned into two, then three and four,” and then “I found myself at the national finals.” Expressing her gratitude for the support and encouragement shown by the local Legion Post and Legionnaires along the way, she noted: “This belief in me has transformed me.” And she learned something else: “Words have the power to change the world.”

    Former Army Staff Sgt. Ryan M. Pitts, who received the Medal of Honor for heroic actions during a firefight in Afghanistan, helped to present Spirit of Service Awards to members of the Armed Forces for outstanding community service. “Service means so much to me,” Pitts said, “both in uniform” and in the community. As veterans, he said, “we see service as an obligation.”

    Legion Riders and Departments presented donations to the Legacy Scholarship Fund, which provides scholarships for children of fallen warriors. New York’s 2014-2015 Commander and Delegation Chair Frank Peters, along with 2015-2016 Commander James Yermas and Department Adjutant James Casey, presented a check for $31,331 on behalf of the Empire State Legion Family, bringing the Department’s total Legacy contribution to $39,148 for the year.