In a three-day visit to Minnesota, National Commander of the American Legion Brett Reistad visited the Pequot Lakes American Legion on Monday, March 11.
"The posts have been very welcoming," Reistad said. "I think they're hungry for the information I'm providing about the history of the American Legion. I think they are half expecting that when I come in, knowing it's our centennial. They seemed genuinely thrilled to have a national commander with them."
Ken Meyer, Pequot Lakes American Legion Post 49 past commander and current finance officer, said Reistad gave a fascinating speech that included the history of the organization.
"His speech was very informative," Meyer said. "He brought up the history of the American Legion and all it has done in the past and still does today for veterans of our country and the communities."
Meyer said Reistad also updated the post on work with Congress regarding eligibility requirements of the organization. For years the American Legion has discussed allowing veterans from times when U.S. soldiers were in conflicts that were not officially designated as wars. Currently, only veterans from official wars are eligible for membership.
Reistad said 1,600 U.S. soldiers died in the lead-up to the Vietnam War, and the survivors of that lead-up currently are not eligible for membership.
Because the American Legion received its charter from Congress, it requires action by Congress to change eligibility requirements.
"That is still in Congress, but it appears favorable," Meyer said. "The number of representatives they have talked to seems favorable to pass it."
Meyer said the Legion itself, more specifically American Legion groups in specific regions, have blocked the eligibility changes in the past from within the organization, but that seems like it may change soon.
The Pequot Lakes Legion honored Reistad with a prime rib dinner.
Reistad started the tour Sunday, March 10, in Two Harbors, moving to the West Duluth Legion Post for breakfast Monday and to Pequot Lakes for dinner. He spent Tuesday morning at the Brainerd Post and planned dinner in Anoka. Additional stops included visiting the 148th fighter wing in Duluth and St. Cloud State University.
During his trip, Reistad said he learned about the needs of Minnesota's American Legion Posts.
"I'm thrilled to have the honor of representing the American Legion at the national level," Reistad said. "Minnesota's been great to me. The leadership of the Department of Minnesota who arranged the visit have done very well to select locations and timing. We're going to leave being better educated."
Reistad is from Virginia. He was elected at the 100th national convention in Minneapolis. His theme for the year is "Celebrating our Legacy."