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Expanding advocacy for Montana’s vets

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Former Ravalli County Justice of the Peace Ed Sperry has been elected Vice Commander of the American Legion for the state of Montana. And Sperry is turning the office into a campaign platform to keep the Legion alive in Montana.

Montana has one of the highest per-capita concentrations of veterans, more than 100,000. One of every eight Montanans has served in the Armed Services. More than 8,000 veterans live in the greater Missoula area.

But despite that, the American Legion has only 12,000 members statewide. That’s not enough for Sperry. He helped campaign successfully on a national level to change Legion bylaws to allow more service veterans to become Legion members.

“Just as it is ‘publish or perish’ in academic circles, it is ‘recruit or die’ for the Legion,” Sperry says. “There are about 120 posts around the state. This year my goal is to bring many more into the Legion. I’d like to see a Legion post in every community where there’s a school.”

Sperry is a seasoned campaigner, a retired, 26-year U.S. Air Force colonel who spent 13 years serving as Ravalli County justice of the peace. He is a former commander of the Stevensville American Legion post and was state Chaplin last year.

He plans membership drives in all 11 districts across the state this fall. Without new, younger members, the Legion and other service organizations are doomed, Sperry says.

“Our theme this year is ‘Recommit,’ and we urge veterans to do just that,” Sperry says. “The Legion has a great deal to offer them and the community. We want to get that word out.”

Unabashedly patriotic, the Legion awards thousands of dollars in scholarships to graduating high school seniors each year, winners of an oratory contest whose subject is the U.S. Constitution. The Legion helps sponsor Boys State and Girls State. Legion baseball is a summer staple and locally the Missoula Mavericks, the Red Sox and the Bitterroot Bucs are Legion-supported.

Sperry believes his mission will succeed. As Vietnam-era veterans age and need help, they often have to battle Veterans Affairs to receive that assistance. The Legion is their strongest advocate and support, Sperry says.

“We need younger members. If we don’t seek them, we’ll find ourselves irrelevant. The deeper I get into the Legion, the more I discover what it does and can do. We need to tell that to the world,” he says. “I’m going to be telling everyone in Montana who will listen.”

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