American Legion National Vice Commander Angel Narvaez speaks to Legion members at Post 137 to promote membership and encourage them to stand up for the rights of veterans.

Angel Narvaez, the American Legion national vice commander, visited Dyersville American Legion Post 137 as part of a regional tour to drive Legion recruitment Nov. 18. Narvaez is one of five national vice commanders who serve under the Legion’s national commander and are assigned to assist with membership. Narvaez is assigned to the Midwest region, which consists of Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota.

Narvaez said, “Part of my responsibility with the Legion is to help these departments with membership, so that’s what I’m doing here.”

According to Narvaez, the Legion’s primary purpose is to help give veterans support, especially in claiming their benefits. This is something they do for all veterans, not only their members.

“I wouldn’t say it’s a veteran’s union, more like a club,” he said. “We get together and talk about our experiences, but at the same time, we try to help all veterans. You don’t have to be a member of the American Legion for us to help veterans. Our primary mission is to take care of veterans, which is why we’re more like a club. In the union you have to belong, but not in the Legion.”

Narvaez said the benefits of the Legion extend to the families of veterans as well.

“We are a veteran’s advocacy, but we also include our spouses and children. We have programs for them like the Sons of the American Legion and American Legion Riders. It’s for veterans and their families, which is why we are called the Legion family.”

While a veteran doesn’t have to be a member of the Legion to receive their aid, Narvaez said it’s important for the Legion to grow their numbers to more efficiently push the government to give veterans their proper due after their service. He said that Congress responds to numbers and they are far more likely to be influenced by an organization representing a larger voting demographic.

“We tend to forget that every time the government does anything for veterans, it’s because the veterans’ organizations forced the government to do it,” he explained. “I was talking about how the G.I. Bill and compensations were formed because the government never has a plan. They have the plan to send us to combat, but never a plan for how they’re going to compensate us after we come back. That’s what we do. We try to keep the government honest on their responsibilities towards the veterans.”

Dyersville Post 137 has 306 members and received an overall positive assessment from Narvaez for their numbers and strong presence in the larger community.

“Across the board, they are doing great. I look at the numbers of other states and districts and this particular post is thriving. They are doing the right things, getting the right memberships, and we also want them to stay engaged with the community. This post is very much engaged with the community, which is why they are growing. People see that, and they want to belong.”

While signing up new members is important, Narvaez said the larger challenge the American Legion faces is retaining those members for more than one or two years, challenging Post 137 to retain 90% of their membership over the next year.

“Historically, we’ve had no problem recruiting. Every year we get many veterans to join. The problem we’ve seen is that after one or two years, they don’t want to renew their membership. That means we’re doing something wrong. Maybe they thought they needed to join the Legion to get their benefits — which is not true — and maybe after they got their benefits they said, ‘I don’t need the Legion anymore so I’ll leave.’ All I know is that the one and two-year people aren’t renewing like we would like them to do. We need to make sure the same reason the veteran signed up stays with him.”

One of Narvaez’s recommendations for further growth in the post is to work on increasing the recruitment of female veterans, reminding them that anyone who has served in the military counts as a veteran and can prove to be a capable Legion leader.

“For the post, the challenge is to recruit more female veterans. We need to do that if we want to keep our organization growing. They already have a few, but we need to keep on bringing them and getting them engaged with the community.”

Narvaez also wished to remind the larger community that the Legion is always there to give assistance and be a part of local life.

“To the community, I will say that we’re here to help all the veterans and we can participate in school activities. We have an oratory contest to get students involved and we have a program for fifth graders on the flag. They need to know that we’re involved, not only in our little post, but we want to get involved with the whole community because that’s what we do.”