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The next generation of Legion leaders

Saturday’s plan, Josh Hayes said, was to cook pancakes and sausage outside Rocky Mountain High School in Fort Collins, Colo. The meal was a fundraiser to help pay for the high school baseball team’s American Legion Baseball jerseys.

Mother Nature had other ideas.

“We get here and it’s snowing, so we start setting up in (the high school’s student store) and the first thing we do is hook five griddles up and we blow the breaker,” said Hayes, the adjutant of Post 1879 in Fort Collins, which is sponsoring Rocky Mountain’s Legion Baseball team this summer.

“You’ve got to be able to adapt and overcome.”

That’s an appropriate motto of sorts for Post 1879, which has grown from a student veteran post at Colorado State University (CSU) when first chartered two years ago to a community post.

Post 1879’s roots can be traced to CSU’s Student Veterans Organization and Adult Learner and Veterans Services.

Hayes had seen firsthand how important an active American Legion post can be at his original post, Post 209 in Colorado Springs. “I saw the good that they were doing in the community, and I really respected that post for that, and that’s what I wanted to bring to Fort Collins,” he said.

“He asked if I would contemplate being the (post) commander, (I said) OK,” said Oren Vance, Post 1879 commander.

The charter members of Post 1879 turned to members of existing posts — among them past department commander and past commander of Post 209 Jay Bowen, current Department Junior Vice Commander Tony DuMosch, and current Department Senior Vice Commander Robb Smith — to guide them in getting the new post up and running.

It soon became evident, however, that remaining a student post wasn’t going to work.

“We kind of recognized early on that this is going to be a problem when we all graduate, where are we going to be at?” Hayes said.

“We were having problems getting a stable place to meet,” Vance said. “Meeting posts kept shifting, locations and times. So we went out to one of the local churches, Christ United Methodist Church, and they were very kind about taking us in. They really love us, they’ve been super with us. We have our monthly meetings there, we have our dinners there, we’ll be hosting the national commander in May there. We’ve got an Auxiliary chapter going, we have Sons, Riders, we’re sponsoring the Rocky Mountain High Lobos baseball team, so we’re really excited about what we’re doing and where things are going.”

Duane Hansen, SAL Squadron 1879 commander, helps link the post to the community.

“I ran for (city council) here in Fort Collins, I know lots of leadership both in the city and for the state, and so the ability to kind of leverage some of that for post benefit, which allows us to benefit veterans and their families, that’s kind of been my unspoken role,” Hansen said.

“We’re trying to do programs in our community like, there aren’t many places in Fort Collins for us to dispose of distressed American flags. There’s actually one place, it’s a VFW post, it’s little advertised. So one of the initiatives that we have started is trying to create a network of retired mailboxes that are painted a different color, clearly labeled as distressed American flags, so there’s a drop off, and we will go around on a regular basis, collect those flags and properly dispose of them. We’re trying to work with our city leadership on ways to create a board for veterans to address community needs, we’re looking at a couple different avenues for that."

“It’s been really important to us to be involved in the community,” Vance said. “(Meeting at the church) saves us on the rent, the utilities. We give the church 10 percent of what we make on the dinners. …

“One of the issues with being on campus, they would help us find a place for meetings, but we had to show that we were able to pay for the utilities, which was an issue, because we needed a place to have dinners so we can fundraise so we could pay for the utilities. So it was a catch-22.”

Department Commander Terri Clinton noted Post 1879’s growth from a student post to a community post is a positive.

“The fact that we have some students who live up here and will remain up here in the area is actually a huge asset, one of the main reasons the post is surviving and thriving. Also, the mentorship within the post. They’re a pretty tight-knit group, and they want to see this succeed, obviously, for a lot of reasons. The transition from military to civilian life doesn’t always go as smooth for everybody,” Clinton said.

And while Post 1879 isn’t just for student veterans, it remains a resource for them.

“We’re all dealing with readjustment issues, trying to reintegrate into society,” Vance said. “(Post 1879 is) where the resources are, and a buddy you can hang out with, someone you can go to when you’re struggling a little bit. A lot of times they’re new to the area. It’s been really good in that regard to do those sorts of things. …

“I would definitely encourage (other student veterans to start a post). I think it’s a great way to build a good support network. I am myself retired 20 years, had some struggles, and it’s been really helpful for me. I got tired of isolating and just trying to keep things together on my own, and I finally decided I needed to do something. It’s been really, really good for me and these guys as well."

“I think for us here at the post one of the most important things is community,” Hayes said. “The generation gap is one thing, but the veteran community has always been plagued by stigmas. Whether it’s we’ve got bad attitudes, we don’t like civilians, PTSD of all things, the generation gap’s a big one, all that, plagued with stigmas, right? We want to work with the community, be an active part of the community, and show that that’s not the case. Perception is not always reality. We’ve all got beards and tattoos but we don’t got bad attitudes.”

And as for that pancake breakfast fundraiser?

“Preliminary numbers, today we were able to raise over $1,000, which covered the costs of the jerseys and definitely gave them a bit extra to help supplement the cost of the boys to play,” Hayes said.