Serving those who served
WORTHINGTON — There are approximately 2.3 million members of the American Legion nationwide. Of those members, 56 were selected to complete a six-day National American Legion College course in Indianapolis.
Bill “Brock” Brockberg was one of them.
“From the college, my two biggest takeaways were how to develop a strategic plan and present it,” Brockberg said. “The other one was how to present a program on an American Legion committee or activity and how to better increase participation and interest in that program. In my opinion, those are the two big things.”
Brockberg is the Nobles County Veterans Service Officer, and is also actively involved in the American Legion.
“The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) at the federal government has mandates that counties across the country have a county Veterans Service Officer to assist all veterans who are eligible to make sure they get their benefits,” Brockberg said. “Because there are so many VA programs and initiatives, we have disability compensation — that is our No. 1 priority. That is to help veterans who are on active duty or just released from active duty and they are suffered the wounds of war — that they be helped first. Then behind them are other veterans that at one time or another during their active duty military careers got injured.”
Brockberg explained there are numerous programs for veterans, including pensions, grants and educational programs.
“There are a lot of things, especially with my older veterans and a large majority of the veterans I work with percentage-wise, numbers-wise and customer-wise — they are of the Vietnam era or earlier wars,” Brockberg said. “Our younger veterans, the ones that served in the first Gulf war or later, they don’t number quite that many yet. Those are the ones that probably don’t need my services as much as others.”
Attending American Legion College
To attend the yearly American Legion College, interested participants have to submit an application as well as an essay. On top of that, they also have to have a letter of recommendation.
“In the late springtime, notices are sent out from the department of the American Legion to primarily the younger veterans asking if they would be interested in attending this school,” Brockberg said. “You have to fill out this application along with your written recommendation to attend the college.”
Last spring, he filled out the application and wrote his essay.
“I didn’t hear anything back. But when I was at national convention in Houston, Texas at the end of August, I was talking with a past department commander, and he volunteered to write me a recommendation to attend this college next year,” Brockberg said. “All I had to do was remind him I wanted the recommendation so I could go to college next year.”
However, the recommendation came sooner than expected.
“When we got back, this past commander took it upon himself to write a recommendation to go to the course this year,” Brockberg said. “The next time I saw him was at a state membership rally up in northern Minnesota. Him and his wife came up to me and they told me to be checking my mailbox because I’m going to college. And they were right.”
At the six-day course, the students learned how to lay a solid foundation for post revitalization in a variety of settings.
“We studied how to write and present a strategic plan to help build up a post,” Brockberg said. “It’s membership and helping that post be able to provide more in their communities to their veteran service members, service members families, participate in Americanism activities like marching in parades. We learned how to write up strategic plans for anywhere up to one-, two-, three-, up to five-year plans.”
Students were also required to give a presentation on one of the many programs offered by the American Legion.
“Another major part of the course was to give a presentation on one of the 28 programs of the American Legion — to give a presentation in depth with communication materials, with a slideshow, video or CD or something like that,” he said. “And be prepared to help a post or a district develop their own program.”
The students had a mock department meeting where they learned about resolutions.
“Then we also studied and actually participated in what was called a department executive council meeting,” Brockberg said. “We were given resolutions that we had to work up and submit to this executive committee. In our mock executive committee meeting, we submitted our resolutions, we discussed them, we debated them — things like that.”
Active in American Legion
To say Brockberg is active in American Legion activities would be an understatement.
“Last year, I was the district commander for the American Legion, Second District,” he said. “The Second District is 84 American Legion posts in southwestern Minnesota. My area was from Hills east to Wells and then from Wells north to Mankato and all the way over to Hendricks. There’s 84 towns in there with Legion posts and they all came under the Second District, which had between 8,000 and 9,000 American Legion members. I was their commander.”
He serves this year on a committee for post development and revitalization, a fitting match for what he learned at college.
“That’s a state committee that’s assigned to help posts at the local level,” Brockberg said. “One of the posts I may be working with might even be this very post in Worthington.”
Brockberg served in the Army and Army reserve for 24 years. His home post is Pipestone, but he works with veterans from across the state.
“The American Legion also serves as a legislative advocate for veterans in Congress and in the state,” Brockberg said. “These things are all important. In fact, veterans statewide in Minnesota really saw an example of what an American Legion can do to help when it comes to legislative affairs. Most of the things we asked for in Gov. (Tim) Pawlenty’s last year in office and for the first year or two of Gov. (Mark) Dayton’s administration, we’ve gotten a large majority of what we’ve asked for in terms of funding and benefits.”
To be able to advocate, Brockberg said strong membership is needed.
“Membership is the backbone of our strength for advocating for veterans,” he said. “Without membership, a lot of the things we do tend to go by the wayside. Membership is so important. With membership, we become better advocates for veterans and for veterans legislation at the local, state and federal level.”
Part of recognizing veterans happens today, Veterans Day.
“It’s important because this is a day of recognition of the service of all veterans,” Brockberg said. “It’s a day to honor and support the fact that we have veterans, and it’s a day to mark the establishment of Veterans Day to give us that recognition and support.
“As a supporter of veterans, as an active American Legionnaire, our No. 1 pillar is veterans affairs and rehabilitation — that’s the support side of the American Legion as an organization,” he continued. “It’s important to me to reach out with my fellow American Legionnaires to all of our fellow veterans and recognize them for their service and thank them for their service.”