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New York's American Legion commander talks expanding membership, advocating for military families

Watertown Daily Times - 10/5/2017

Oct. 05--WATERTOWN -- The first female commander in the 99-year history of The American Legion Department of New York said she wanted to connect with younger military veterans to help grow the national organization into the future.

"Our organization is for veterans of all ages," said Rena Nessler, who was elected to the role earlier this year after several years of service to the organization. "We look at input from our younger veterans, and ask what they like, and work with them to incorporate that. I realize we have an image, however, that image overshadows sometimes the great programs we have for the families and for our youths, and the support that we do within the community."

Mrs. Nessler, a Navy veteran and Department of Veterans Affairs employee, visited the area on Wednesday with other top Legion officials in the state. Their tour included a stop at the John C. Londraville Post 832, Cape Vincent, for lunch, and then a dinner at the Army Navy Post 61, Watertown. Joining her were state Auxiliary President, Patricia Hennessey, and state Sons of The American Legion Detachment Commander, William Clancy III.

The organization and its branches are currently working to bring in more veterans and families connected to military operations after Sept. 11, 2001, and the organization is currently conducting survey work to better understand the desires for younger veterans.

Mrs. Nessler said the organization has worked to incorporate younger members through its history.

"We saw that when we went from World War I to World War II veterans joining," Mrs. Nessler said. "As each succession went on, you always had that older image to get over."

Another key issue for the organization, she said, was in creating support systems for military families, particularly in communities where such resources are less common. Mrs. Nessler said one service member she spoke with recently spoke of how his battle buddies had his back in the field, but that he was worried about his family back home.

"That's one of the big things that we can help with is making sure the family at home is taken care of," she said.

As she broke new ground at the state level, Mrs. Nessler noted the American Legion is currently led nationally by its first female commander, Denise Rohan.

She acknowledged her position had inspired other women to aspire for larger leadership roles.

"I have had some of our women veterans come up and say 'Seeing you stand there gives me hope I can go into a leadership role beyond what I'm doing at the post level,'" Mrs. Nessler said. "It gives them that face that there is a woman in command, but at the national level."

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(c)2017 Watertown Daily Times (Watertown, N.Y.)

Visit Watertown Daily Times (Watertown, N.Y.) at www.watertowndailytimes.com

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