Veteran's Day Speech 2016
Collectively today, we do more than remember and thank our veterans. Today, we honor them. Honor is not merely remembrance, praise or thankfulness. Honor is showing great respect for those who have earned it. Veterans, as men of honor guarantee on their oath to serve a civilian government. Our enlisted veterans swear to:
...support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God."
Our Constitution is the soul of these United States. It guarantees equal protection and equal rights. It was the first document to affirm the rights of all human beings for an entire country--our country. The Constitution is the document that changed humankind and it is our veterans who took that responsibility on their shoulders, for us. The many civilians with us tonight understand that protection from evil is necessary and that the military is the bulwark that keeps us safe. They understand, and appreciate, that your service was for all of us. Today is Veterans Day. But I can't help but take notice of politics, religion, of majorities or minorities.
Today we honor our veterans. We give them the respect that they have earned, for their devotion, loyalty, integrity and sacred honor. So, let’s celebrate them! Let’s clap them on the back, let’s shake their hand firmly as we look them in the eye and tell them they matter. Let’s recognize their strength and their ability overcome adversity and let us be inspired by it. Much of my personal inspiration comes from Alexander Hamilton, an American hero. Well to me, he is THE American hero. A veteran himself, after fighting and leading courageously in the Revolution, Alexander didn't hang up his boots and his rifle and say he'd done his part. He altered his trajectory and redirected his efforts to fight for what he believed in.
He "studied and he fought and [he] killed for the notion of a nation we now get to build. But why did we do it? "What was it all for? If we stand for nothing (Burr) what will we fall for?" (Lin Manuel Miranda)
The American Legion typically defers politics from its general discussions, but given the caliber of our national officials I can't help but recognize the need, and speak to that need, of our Military Veterans continuing their service to our country, in stronger leadership roles. Because service is the greatest prerequisite to leadership. Our T-shirts this year feature the words "One of Us"... Veterans strength . Veteran power. Let's show them what "One of Us" is all about.
"And though I may not live to see our glory, I will gladly join the fight. And when our children tell our story, they’ll tell the story of tonight.” —LMM
Erik Marshall Luker
Veteran's Day Speech 2015
2015 marks our third veterans day dinner making it officially an annual event! I am proud to describe the recent growth of this post. In 2013 we remodeled our infrastructure, 2014 we remodeled our community hall and in 2015 we remodeled our member hall, our memorial, and even our perspective. In doing so we recently drew in 35 new, post 9/11 members. The mission has been worthy and effective. Now, more than ever, it is the time to turn our focus outward— to the hospital. The word hospital doesn’t typically conjure positive images. Mostly, we associate the negative— and unfortunately for those who have spent time in battle, likely even more so. Let’s talk about the Veterans Administration, the VA. The VA, to the uninitiated, is an elusive establishment with a tarnished reputation. People loosely associate the VA with something vaguely military and something hospital related. Unfortunately, that's where the level of understanding stops.
Last year, I discussed the vital importance of re-branding the American Legion—the need for strong local participation, growth and an image overhaul. The American Legion, effectively rebranded, is now drawing in new membership, unfamiliar with the complex terrain of the VA and legal jargon surrounding it. In 2013 I discussed the importance of combining the experience of World War 2 veterans and the vitality of their younger counterparts now returning home from the Middle East. That unity is coming to fruition. The American Legion should seize the opportunity to help our emerging membership. The Legion should use our experience to lead our younger counterparts into the process of letting the nation they served, serve them; to recapture a sense of self. After all, a young man is more likely to walk himself into a gym, a bar or even a library, rather than the hospital. When those amenitites: the gym, bar, library, are under OUR roof we can use them as a rally point to bring the services they need, to them and when necessary to encourage and direct them outwards. That is the thrust behind our new member hall, which is open to all veterans, combat deployed or stateside, Tripoli to Al Nasiriyah, Hawaii to Okinawa. Our rebranding includes a commitment to ensure our members get the benefits for which we so literally fought. The VA’s problems are well-known after the 2014 scandal. It's up to the VA to take on their mission to change that perception, no doubt a difficult task, which left veterans dying while idle on waiting lists. Unfortunately it sometimes takes tragedy to elicit change and expose opportunity, But it takes more than just opportunity.
Appreciation of service is rooted in our country’s history and personified by your attendance here tonight. Appreciation also falls short of our obligations. Our elected officials must act. Effectively communicating our needs to those in power is the linchpin. But it’s difficult for one who has never smelled a battlefield to understand the depths of a veteran’s service. Throughout the legislative process, to ensure those in power understand our needs, we must have adequate representation. However, over the past few decades fewer veterans are holding office. In 1976, 77% of Congress were proud military veterans. Now we’ve reached a low of 20%. Perhaps the veteran, who was quick to face the foreign battlefield, shied away from the good fight on our own soil. Still, there are those among us willing, capable and motivated to take on this challenge. The US military, one of the greatest institutions of leadership, has produced qualified leaders for over two centuries; men and women of proven moral courage and value complemented by experience. Our rebranding and outward focus guides us in support of those who know firsthand what it means to wear the uniform of a US serviceman. Those who served abroad for our national interests continue to serve our interests at home. But they require our support. We must help them, help us.
Veterans participating in the legislative process must know that we stand with them and that we will help our families and neighbors recognize that service in the United States Military. Being a veteran is a great qualification, the best prerequisite when we consider trust, leadership, integrity and the ability to get results. The veteran, The American Legion… We are the sleeping giant awakening; as we grow organized, we are emboldened by the tasks ahead. We look forward to the opportunity to continue to fight for our fellow veterans and our fellow countrymen.
Erik M. Luker
Veteran’s Day Speech 2014
Blowback. That’s a CIA term. Some may be familiar with it, likely those from intelligence units. I have been thinking about blowback in a different context... Typically the term is used in reference to covert operations, like supplying weapons to rebel populations for instance, but contemplating the collateral effects. I, however, have been thinking of blowback as it applies to marketing veterans. I have noticed a disturbing trend that could emerge as one of the bigger threats to the veteran community. Let me ask you, what comes to mind when you think about the American legion? What comes to mind when you think about the composition of the Legion’s membership? Some might say “Old dusty hall”. Others might say “Old school veterans”. But that’s not how I envision the Legion. Several of us have worked extremely hard over the past couple of years to change that perception, and I think with some degree of good success, at least locally. But here’s the thought that followed… What will people begin to think of the Legion, as it transitions to the younger generation, on a larger scale?
What will they think of veterans?
I always envisioned our military veterans, in a word, brave. But returning home from the wars I often heard “Wow, you went to Afghanistan? You went to Iraq? You must be crazy!” Ironically it’s the just the opposite. You know what I think is crazy? I think young, able bodied Americans, who don’t seek justice for the attacks of September 11th--that’s crazy. Americans who don’t care about millions of women being abused by tyrannical dictators and regimes, that’s crazy. Millions of children being denied education and the freedoms we take for granted… I think that is crazy. But that’s a tough sell, and I understand not everyone is immediately cut out for it. But we are.
That’s our brand. We are the brave. Yet, how are we portrayed and how are we portraying ourselves?
Well intentioned programs often represent returning veterans as broken- some times physically, sometimes mentally, sometimes both. Typically these are noble programs seeking the funds necessary to fix our wounded brothers and sisters. But I’ve seen the blowback. Some advertising has unintentionally reinforced the false and terrible notion that ALL veterans returning are broken, damaged goods while attempting to solicit funds intended to help our injured brothers and sisters. Blowback. We need a countermeasure to this mindset. We cannot let the millions of advertising dollars have this effect on public opinion, we cannot have a mindset that all returning military veterans require extra psychological screening as I have seen in popular written publications and in satirical, yet far reaching television programming. We cannot have attorneys, without any factual evidence to support the claim, say that a veteran must have acted violently against their client, just because they were in combat, and are now supposedly prone to hyper aggressive behavior. This, is the danger, this is the trend.
It’s time we did rebrand the American Legion by branding ourselves, The Next Greatest Generation of Veterans. We must use caution. Our wounded brothers and sisters need resources and it is imperative that we never stop fighting for them. But let us remember and remind: Young veterans are proven and tested under the most intense pressure and situations. We have returned with strengthened conviction and enhanced abilities. We are educated, experienced and capable. Capable of more than any previous generation. Young Veterans are the future problem solvers and NOT the problems of the future.
Erik M. Luker
Initial Message Veteran's Day 2103
For over 40 years, the post has been defended by feisty, wiry, cunning men who fought bravely. Some fought at Pearl Harbor against Japanese, or Nazis in Germany, others were stationed stateside. All did their part. Spanning the five military branches and posts across the world, they returned from their duties and planted their own post at 410 Mount Pleasant Avenue.
But the fighting did not stop.
Committed to making a difference in the world, they decided to narrow their focus to their roots, country and community. Our country and community. Dues paid and battles won, the work is not yet finished. It’s time for the next generation to step up and walk in the shadows and footsteps of the greatest American generation.
Recent veterans, full of potential and experience, will be the Next Great Generation. These are the young men and women volunteers who refused to sit idly and watch when evil attacked our city. Like the once young men who went before them, they joined their fellow Americans, sought justice for those that were murdered, and helped free oppressed people across the globe. They fought not only in the interest of their country or themselves, but for humanity. They returned with the values of their grandparents, with strengthened convictions.
Now, ready to continue the fight at home, the infrastructure lies in wait. The Legion stands proud and ready to transition to men and women of proven virtue and worthiness ready to carry forward this honorable post; this noble cause.
My fellow brothers and sisters time is the issue. This Greatest Generation, rightfully battle tired and weary, needs your youth step up, relieve your battle worn comrades, and get back in the fight. Well educated and technologically savvy, use your ability to lessen the burden of the post. Take hold of the opportunity to learn essential lessons from veteran veterans. Accept your duty and responsibility in post assignments in the tried and tested ways of The Legion. It is with great pride that we form the front and take the lead going forward. There are many young hands and minds ready to do The Legion's work. The time to step up and meet the obligations to the men who have gone before us, and to those who will come after us, is right now.
Erik Marshall Luker -Post Commander