Santee American Legion Post Boosts San Diego District 22 to national recognition

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Santee Post 364, newest of The American Legion posts in San Diego County’s District 22, lifted the district to an award of national recognition at this summer’s Department of California Convention in Palm Springs. The District Commanders’ New Post Achievement Award distinction, bestowed on 2012-2013 District Commander Rod Van Orden, is for establishing new posts within the region.

Santee Post 364, newest of The American Legion posts in San Diego County’s District 22, lifted the district to an award of national recognition at this summer’s Department of California Convention in Palm Springs. The District Commanders’ New Post Achievement Award distinction, bestowed on 2012-2013 District Commander Rod Van Orden, is for establishing new posts within the region.

Post 364 conducted its first official Legion meeting in mid-February, reviving Lakeside Post 364, which had disbanded in 2004, as membership declined. The event follows renewal of the Legion charter for San Diego’s Leyte Post 625, begun under 2011-2012 District Commander Bob Juers and completed this year.

Impetus for the Santee project came from Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 9327 Commander Chris Hanson, who was instrumental in envisioning the need for a co-resident American Legion Post on the premises. VFW restricts membership to those combat veterans who meet specific criteria for time and location for receipt of expeditionary medals as proof of combat duty. Legion membership is extended to any veteran who was on active duty (even one day) during specific periods of wartime service.

Commander Hanson was struck by the number of young veterans attracted to post events who were ineligible for membership, so he reached out to District Commander Van Orden for support, then asked his VFW members to approve an American Legion Post on the premises.  In July 2012, he approached one veteran holding a permanent VFW guest card, Eugene Michonski, who became first Commander of Santee Post 364, and later was named 2013 Veteran of the Year for the 71st Assembly District. VFW Commander Hanson held that honor for 2012.

Commanders Michonski and Hanson view their posts as forming a central hub for East County veterans, particularly younger veterans who served in the post-9/11 generation of military service, a place where veterans can meet with veterans and provide each other mutual help. Both Commanders advocate two-way intergenerational mentoring between older and younger veterans. Santee Post veterans range in age from 19 to 82, representing every conflict from World War II to the War on Terrorism. Commander Michonski said, “We find ourselves being instant friends here. Our common experiences give us a common bond. We’re a large fraternity.”

Van Orden, whose military service concluded during Operation Desert Shield-Desert Storm, is now serving as District 22 Junior Past Commander, concurs about the necessity of cooperation as the portion of veterans in the populace dwindles, 

“As U.S. military veterans, we all need each other. There will be continued grumbling, I am sure, when we continue reaching out to other veteran service organizations. There are some very tough times ahead, even as we look to our first century of life for the Legion,” he said.

Commander Michonski attended his first District 22 meeting in April, where he began networking with other Post Commanders in San Diego County and learning more from experienced veterans. Atop his project objectives for this year are sponsorship of Boys State attendees sending high-school juniors to a week long civic education program, cooperation with VFW’s Poppy sales to benefit wounded warrior programs, and volunteering at the Veterans Administration Hospital. 

His longer-range Post 364 plans involve setting up a Squadron of Sons of the American Legion and a Chapter of American Legion Riders for motorcyclist members within the next two years.

Post 364 is located at 8790 Cuyamaca Street, Suite F, and contacted at (619) 562-4022 or santeealpost364@gmail.com. 

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