PORTLAND, Ore. -- An American Legion post in Northeast Portland wants to change the way you think about veterans organizations. So Post 134 opened its doors to more service projects -- that way younger vets will feel more of a sense of purpose.
But some at the state level aren't as supportive. State leadership of the American Legion has launched an investigation into the post on N.E. Alberta and 21st Avenue. They want to make sure the charter, the liquor license and their values are being followed.
Change and adaptation can be hard. The American Legion is a 97 year old organization. According to a recent L.A. Times article, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs projects that over the next 25 years, the veteran population will fall from 21 million to 15 million.
The Legion has 14,000 posts, but its national membership has declined from a peak of 3.3 million in 1947 to 2 million today. Only about 30,000 are veterans under the age of 40.
Alan Artero, the day operations manager of Post 134 in Portland, believes if it's going to survive, it needs to reach out to younger veterans who are demanding a purpose.
"You have a lot of vets who've gone through the VA program and they have their disabilities accounted for, then what? What's next? Is it just a never ending paycheck to pay them for their service, is there nothing more to them than this? That's the thing we're really trying to operate under," Artero said.
Artero is a Kuwait and Iraq war vet with the Oregon National Guard infantry. Two years ago, he and a buddy, Sean Davis, took over leadership of his neighborhood legion Post 134 with the mission to modernize. They host open mic nights, battle Portland's homeless crisis, opening up to let 30 people a night sleep during our storms, they rent out their space for concerts, and because art is synonymous with Alberta street.
"We do writing workshops, we do readings, some of it's poetry, one is purely dedicated to the exploration of one's own grief," Artero explained. He says a dozen of his members have had their writings published.
They went from fewer than 250 people when they started, to now 400 and growing.
"Yesterday I had a guy drive from Gaston, he passed two posts just to become a member of this post," Artero said. "I've honestly lost count of how many young veterans have become members of this post that went into a VFW, went into another American Legion and did not feel welcome and said this is the first place I've felt welcomed and loved."
They believe theirs is the youngest-led post in the state, and the only one so far to sign up transgender members.
"It feels like we're on the right track. It feels like we're getting stronger. It feels like there's something about our model that needs to be exported," Artero said.
But state leadership says not so fast. The American Legion Department of Oregon said it couldn't elaborate on an on-going investigation into their charter. Post 134 commanders believe it's a miscommunication regarding continuing their auxiliary and Sons of the American Legion program, which they are, and they believe things will be smoothed over.
They want to keep the history and mission of the American Legion unchanged, just make it more inclusive and bring it into the 21st Century.
"We need to have a conversation about both in terms of flexibility that allows these posts the ability to serve the character of the community they live in, but also kind of motivating and revitalizing their membership base to get involved and use that post as an instrument of good," Artero said.
Veterans can become a member at any American Legion post for $40 a year. If you have any relative, living or dead who was a vet, you can be a member as well, for $40 a year for men, $30 a year for women. Post 134 is always accepting clothing and food donations for the homeless. Their next big project, trying to get the Alberta community for the big earthquake the Northwest is due to get within the next 50 years.
The state wouldn't say how long their investigation into Post 134 would last.
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