DAY 1: Utica Post at NY Dept. Convention

Utica Cop Named NY Officer of Year;
Posts Urged to Embrace Young Vets

JULY 16, 2010 -- The outgoing New York Department Commander, William Kearsing, talked of his vision for membership growth in the state, and an Army National Guard chaplain, Col. Eric Olsen, urged Legionnaires to welcome and embrace the young veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Those were just two of the presenters during the opening session of the Department’s 92nd Annual Convention, held July 15-17 at the OnCenter in downtown Syracuse. A number of Utica Post 229 members attended as delegates and alternates, including Anthony Palladino, Jim Haggerty, Frank Cassella, Paul Wojcik, Dave Wilson and Bob Stronach.

“I want the Department of New York to be the biggest,” Commander Kearsing said. “We’re already the best!”

He predicted a membership surge over the next couple of years. “People out there are recognizing the sacrifices of veterans… That’s why we’re going to grow.”

One of the highlights of his year as department commander, he noted, was visiting the Veterans Outreach Center in Utica, which is helping homeless and hungry veterans and where one legion post, Andrean Post 625, has set up an office. Another highlight was participating in last month’s dedication of 9-11 Memorial Post 2001 aboard the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum. The post was formerly known as Downtown Athletic Club Post 1870. Since the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, the doors to the Athletic Club have been closed, forcing the post to meet at area restaurants.

Returning young veterans need to see what the Legion is all about, noted Colonel Olsen, who is assigned to the NY Army National Guard’s Joint Force Headquarters in Latham. “You’ve got to articulate your purpose to them.”

The returning young men and women “are trying to figure out who they are” in a culture where so many people don’t understand what they’ve experienced in combat.

But, “you get it,” he told the Legionnaires. “Who is better to reconnect them with community… than you?”

So, the chaplain urged, “tell them your purpose.” Let them know that “you’ve stood silently at gravesites, you’ve marched in parades, you’ve lobbied to get them benefits.”

A number of presentations and recognitions took place during the first day of the convention.

New York’s National Executive Committeeman Richard Keiser talked of reaching out to younger veterans through the use of the internet and social media like Facebook.

National Vice Commander Mark Avis brought greetings from National Commander Clarence Hill and praised the department for its legislative days, its 1,000-strong Boy State, and the energy of its membership campaign. He urged experienced leaders to train and mentor new leaders. “Include new members in what you’re doing…Make them feel welcome…and a part of the post.”

Scouting Chairman Carl Griffith introduced New York’s Eagle Scout of the Year, Noah Sinkiewicz, and presented him with a plaque and $2,000 scholarship.

David Bishop Sr., NY Detachment commander for the Sons of the American Legion (SAL), drew rousing applause with a surprise presentation of $10,000 to Fang A. Wong’s campaign for national commander. A former department commander, and a long-time delegate to the national convention, Wong is a candidate to be national commander in 2011-2012.

Law and Order Chair Charles Hill presented the Police Officer of the Year Award to Scott Berger of the Utica Police Department, who was nominated by Utica Post 2209. Berger was recognized for dashing into a burning building in the middle of the night to get residents to safety.

Hill also honored Firefighter of the Year Robert J. Faugh of the Rush, NY Fire Department; Corrections Officer of the Year Maj. James Rose of Livingston County Sheriff’s Department, and Emergency Medical Technicians of the Year Kenneth and Norma Fowler of Cazenovia Volunteer Ambulance Corps.

William Kearsing
NY Dept. commander

Col. Eric Olsen
NY Army National Guard chaplain

Scott Berger
NY Police Officer of Year