More than 140 American Legion commanders and vice commanders from posts throughout Texas gathered at the Killeen Civic and Conference Center on Saturday and Sunday, as state post leaders presented member recruiting tips.
During the two days, Texas American Legion officers also trained more than 50 post adjutants, administrative assistants for commanders and vice commanders, at Killeen’s Courtyard by Marriott.
Texas American Legion Department Training Committee Chairman Fred Rogers started the program and emphasized the need for strong leaders and in-post membership committees.
“The first thing we’ve got to do is believe we can accomplish something,” he said.
Membership across the state rose 3 percent last year, which eclipsed the 1 percent goal and placed Texas at the fourth highest growth rate in the U.S., Rogers said.
But some post officers resist growth.
Rogers visited a post that had seven fewer members than the end of the previous year, he said. One officer anticipated the state post would raise next year’s quota if his post filled the open slots.
“That’s stinking thinking,” Rogers said. “We’ve got to change that. … Membership growth is our lifeblood.”
The five essentials for post commanders are learning, motivating, spearheading the post’s direction, teaching other members, and revisiting the work they start, he said. Positive thinking is key.
“I don’t believe we appreciate each other enough,” Rogers said. “It’s not just in this group, it’s in every group you belong to.”
Post leaders should be humble and resourceful, said Killeen Mayor and past state commander Dan Corbin.
“They need to understand that they’re not a king, and learn how to motivate people,” he said. “They need to have the right tools to supervise people and run meetings. These are some of the things we teach them at this meeting.”
Calls to current members can establish a more powerful connection than texts, can help retain members, and bring back former members, who are a valuable feedback resource, Rogers said.
While most American Legion members are Vietnam War veterans, the organization is trying to attract the younger Afghanistan and Iraq War veterans through Facebook, Twitter and children’s programs such as Boy Scouts and school award programs, said 2006-2007 state commander Butch Sparks.
“The vets of today … want to come home safely, go to school and raise a family,” Sparks said. “You’ll find that most of them did not join in their 30s and early 40s because they raised a family first. This is the challenge for the American Legion.”
Along with younger veterans, women are underrepresented in posts across the country, he said. Twenty-three percent of American veterans are female.
Current state commander Jim Fleming said the training would result in more members and programs.
Texas department leaders want to make the commander training an annual event, Corbin said.
Officers drove from as far as El Paso, Beaumont, the northern panhandle and South Texas, Sparks said. About 20 percent of Texas’ 500 posts were represented.