Commander: Support military despite economy|American Legion national chief visits Vicksburg

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Support for those serving the military throughout the world shouldn’t end once they return home to a sour economy and a lagging job market, the American Legion’s national commander said Tuesday in Vicksburg.

David K. Rehbein, the third national commander to speak in the River City in as many years, addressed about 50 people at a lunch-eon at American Legion Post 213 on Main Street. The Iowa native and retired U.S. Army veteran drew on his own experience returning home from overseas to address looming returns of those currently deployed.

“It won’t matter if they come home and the plant is closed or if it’s part of the massive layoffs,” Rehbein said. “It’s important to have that family support system that first 30 days.”

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An infantryman with the 4th and 1st Armored Divisions in Germany from 1970 to 1971, Rehbein added a bit of combat imagery to drive home the point.

“If we didn’t do our job, the guy next to us was in danger,” Rehbein said. “It needs to be folks like us to look out for them.”

Rehbein is a retired research metallurgist with the U.S. Department of Energy and a member of Ames Post No. 37. Before his election as national commander in August 2008, Rehbein was a district and state commander in his home state and was appointed by then-Gov. Tom Vilsack to the Iowa Commission on Veterans Affairs. The veterans organization elects national commanders for one-year terms.

Recognition from locals was abundant. Post 213 and fellow Legionnaires from Post 3 presented Rehbein with $200 donations for the Legion’s National Emergency Relief Fund, geared to provide rapid relief to Legion members and their families following natural disasters. Also, Warren County Board of Supervisors President Richard George presented Rehbein with a certificate of appreciation.

Funding tothe national organization and lobbying efforts have improved in the past 2 1/2 years or so, Rehbein said.

“It’s been encouraging,” Rehbein said. “We no longer have to argue with Congress.”

Rehbein said the organization would like to see the Department of Veterans Affairs receive congressional authorizations a year ahead of time so the federal Cabinet-level entity can better plan its spending. He specified the hiring of mental health specialists in VA hospitals, a process he said that takes up to 10 months.

Another item on the Legion’s wish list is expanding VA clinics and encouraging the registration by veterans to be able to receive care from VA hospitals.

“When a veteran has to drive 60 to 90 miles, it’s not helping their health care,” Rehbein said, adding both items make up “an important step because health-care costs are very high.”

As for post-building, Rehbein said it begins with spreading a spirit of cooperation to younger generations — citing the presence of Vicksburg High School Junior ROTC who presented the colors.

“We need to be with them face to face and be that role model,” Rehbein said, adding Legions based in smaller cities provide that opportunity.

“I wanted to visit the kind of post where the dinner might be potluck,” Rehbein said. “Where people give of themselves.”

The American Legion was chartered by Congress in 1919 as a patriotic, mutual-help, wartime veterans organization. Men and women now serve in about 15,000 American Legion Posts worldwide, covering 55 departments in the United States, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, France, Mexico and the Philippines. National headquarters is in Indianapolis.


Contact Danny Barrett Jr. at