Being National Commander of the American Legion isn’t a job for people who like to put their feet up and settle down; “I was home for five days last Christmas,” Mike Helm said on Thursday, the final day of his four-day, 12-post tour of Minnesota.
Being National Commander of the American Legion isn’t a job for people who like to put their feet up and settle down.
“I was home for five days last Christmas,” Mike Helm said on Thursday, the final day of his four-day, 12-post tour of Minnesota.
That is basically the only time Helm has been home to Norcatur, Nebraska since he was elected last August 28.
National American Legion Commanders terms last one year.
According to one of his aides on Thursday, Helm plans to spend 342 days of his 365 day term on the road.
Since last summer he’s visited most states in the United States as well as Vietnam, Laos, South Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, and Okinawa.
On the anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack, Helm shared a hotel room with many of the 90+ year old survivors of the attack.
“They had more energy than me,” he said, shaking his head. “They were up at sunrise and still going strong when I was going to bed.”
With all of his traveling, how does Helm prepare for visiting a rural Minnesota American Legion post?
“Congress passed the veteran suicide prevention bill, which was written by Representative Walz, a Minnesota congressman,” Helm quickly pointed out.
“In smaller, rural communities, the American Legion post is often a hub of the town.
“When there’s a deployment, maybe one percent of the population might be involved (taking into account families and friends).
“In smaller, rural towns, that percentage goes up real fast. A deployment might affect a much larger percentage of the population.”
And what happens when his 365 days are up? Will the retired postal carrier take it easy and relax?
Not if he has any say in the matter.
“Past commanders tend to stay involved in the issues,” he said. When Helm’s term ends in August, he plans to put new energy into his new passion: veterans mental health issues.
“We take our best and brightest, send them into battle, and some of them come home and struggle to readjust,” Helm said.
“Not all veterans, of course. It’s a small percentage, but they’re there. Their mental health needs need to be addressed a lot better, and not just the veterans, but their whole families.”
Helm also plans to help develop ways for American Legion posts to work with legal immigrants to the United States.
“We’re against illegal immigration, but we need to reach out more to the legal immigrants and help bring them to full citizenship.”
After meeting with area Legionnaires, Helm and his aides hopped into his vehicle and headed off down the road for his last Minnesota stop.
And as always, he was the best prepared person in the room.
After Helm’s speech, as he was posing for photos, one of his aides laughed, “He’s never been to this part of the country before, but we’ll be driving down the road and he’ll have his phone out, reading maps and saying, ‘Make the next turn here....”