NEW HAVEN — An exciting time for any organization is meeting their national leaders and spokespeople, and several local veterans can now check that item off their list.
Members of the American Legion Post 140 in New Haven, as well as members from American Legion Post 39 in Pomeroy, Ohio, gathered in New Haven first thing Monday morning to welcome American Legion National Commander James E. Koutz. This was the first stop of Koutz’s tour around the state of West Virginia.
“It’s great to be here,” Koutz said on Monday morning. Koutz also noted the big turnout on Monday morning in New Haven, saying it was a great way for his trip around West Virginia to begin.
“It looks like it’s going to be a great tour,” he added.
According to the American Legion website, the national commander serves as the chief executive officer and official spokesperson for the American Legion, serving a one year term following their election at a national convention. Koutz was elected on Aug. 30, 2012, at the Legion’s 94th National Convention in Indianapolis, Ind.
Koutz explained his work as national commander, saying he travels to different posts and areas across the country promoting legion membership and the many programs the organization sponsors. Koutz spoke on one particular cause on Monday morning, Operation Comfort Warriors (OCW).
Through OCW, the American Legion is working to provide “nonessential” items for U.S. military personnel returning from Afghanistan and Iraq who are recovering from mental and physical wounds, particularly traumatic brain injuries (TBI) or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). These items, which usually doesn’t show up as part of government budgets, including loose fitting clothing items so wounds can heal and fitness equipment so veterans can regain their strength, as well as things like iPods, all of which can help make the veteran’s recovery more comfortable.
In addition to a national commander, there are also five national vice commanders elected at the national convention, one of whom is Dave Hall of New Haven and a Post 140 member.
“It’s a big honor for us to have the national commander here,” Hall said. He also mentioned this was the first time a national commander has visited New Haven.
Hall also explained his duties as vice commander, saying he is responsible for a nine state region and also works to promote the legion, their programs, and what the organization stands for.
“We’re here to support veterans of past wars, present wars, and future wars,” Hall added. Hall also presented Koutz with a donation towards OCW.
Also present and traveling around on Monday with Koutz was Mason County Commissioner and past American Legion National Commander Miles Epling. Epling, who served as commander for the 1989-90 term, said they would also be traveling around to posts in Cabell County on Monday, in addition to making another local stop in Point Pleasant.
“It’s a pleasure to have him in Mason County,” Epling said.
On Tuesday, Koutz will be making stops in the southern part of the state, followed by visits to the VA Hospital and Veteran’s Home in Huntington on Wednesday.
Hailing from Boonville, Ind., Koutz entered the United States Army in Aug. 1969, and in Jan. 1970 he served an extended tour of duty in Vietnam with Co. C 169th Engineer Battalion. With a rank of Specialist 5, he was honorably discharged in March 1971 and joined the American Legion, as a member of Boonville Post 200. He was honored as a life member in 1991 and served as the post’s commander for nine years.
Koutz has served in several elected and appointed offices with the American Legion at the post, county, district, department, and national levels. Nationally, he has served on the Foreign Relations Commission as a chairman of both the Economics and Legislative Commissions.
For more information on Koutz, the American Legion, and the OCW, visit www.legion.org.