John Brieden has an honorable but very lofty goal. The national commander of the American Legion intends to go to all 50 states, plus other countries, and visit American troops in Iraq if the government will authorize the trip.
Brieden started a whirlwind bus trip throughout Indiana yesterday. Brazil Post 2 was the first of 30 stops in four days for the National Commander and his entourage of state Legion leaders. Escorting Brieden was Indiana American Legion Commander Roger Baker, Indiana American Legion Auxiliary President Nancy Leighty and Indiana Commander of the Sons of the American Legion Mark Tansel.
"The number one program for the American Legion today is to show support for the troops," Brieden said to the patriotic audience at the breakfast gathering. "When our local troops are activated we need to be very supportive of them and their families... we need to make sure we bring them back to the same fanfare in which they leave."
Three local men, members of the Indiana Army National Guard Co. B 38th MSB, nodded their agreement. Their unit is to be activated Jan. 23.
"We heard that the national commander was coming in and we decided to come and hear what he had to say and support him," SFC Neil Brown said. "We enjoy the community support. Morale of the troops is high, but we're nervous."
SFC Matt Ames added, "We're proud to serve our country."
Brieden said that in his year in office he hopes to get into all 50 states. He's already been with military personnel in Korea, Taiwan and the Philippines.
"We spent Thanksgiving day in Camp Casey on the DMZ in Korea," Brieden said. "I'd like to visit troops in Iraq. We were working on it. When the national alert was raised to orange, that deferred our chance of going to Iraq at that time. But we're still working toward that goal."
Brieden, from Brenhan, Texas, served in the military from 1972 to 1977, "when the Vietnam war was winding down." The Army veteran is married with four children and "five and a half" grandchildren.
When asked why he wanted to be National Commander, Brieden answered, "The American Legion is an organization that touches lives in so many ways such as the military and in hospitals. I'm just idealistic enough to believe that one person can make a difference."
And according to Indiana Commander Roger Baker, Brieden certainly has made a difference. "It used to be that if a veteran was drawing a disability pension through the VA, then their military retirement was reduced by the amount of the disability pension," Baker explained.
"John went to Congress and the President. Now there's a bill that if a veteran is 50 percent or more disabled, beginning in January, they can draw both disability and retirement pay. It'll be in increasing increments reaching the full amount in 10 years."
Brieden said he was just a small piece of the grass roots movement that made it all possible. Baker disagreed.
"As far as I'm concerned," he said, "Brieden was the sponsor and the significant influence in getting this bill passed."