New Legion plan gets Turner Valley's approval

Okotoks: Group trying to re-establish a Legion in town

By: By Ian Tennant

  |  Posted: Thursday, Jun 05, 2014 06:00 am

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The possible re-establishment of a Royal Canadian Legion in Okotoks has the blessing of the president of the Turner Valley Legion.

“I think it’s a good thing,” said Michel Jackson, president and service officer at Turner Valley’s Branch 78.

Jackson estimated the Turner Valley Legion has about 400 members.

“I don’t think we will lose very many members,” he said.

One member Turner Valley may lose, however, is Malcolm Hughes, a Black Diamond resident and Deputy Commander for District 5.

Hughes has been helping Okotoks residents navigate the process of starting up a Legion and if successful, he may join the new branch to offer his leadership experience. The group has the 50 signatures it needs to make a formal application and as of May 28 Hughes was waiting to hear from the provincial command in Calgary what the next step would be.

Hughes was adamant the Okotoks group is “not poaching” members from either the Turner Valley or High River Legions.

“I think there are sufficient numbers in Okotoks,” Hughes said.

An Okotoks Legion can stand on its own, he said, noting the rapid population growth in and around the town.

Like Hughes, Jackson said all Legions and their members have the common goals of serving their members and helping citizens remember the sacrifices made by Canada’s military personnel and their families. Last year the Turner Valley Legion raised $58,000 during the annual poppy campaign that kicks off two weeks before Remembrance Day, Nov. 11, an effort that included people like Hughes canvassing for funds at Okotoks businesses.

Jackson said he was asked by a Turner Valley member if that fundraising activity might be impacted by the creation of an Okotoks Legion.

“The money all winds up going to serve veterans and help veterans,” he said.

Hughes said it was during the poppy campaign in the past three years that he met more and more people who asked why Okotoks didn’t have its own Legion. He would remind them that Okotoks did have a Legion at one time, but it wound down roughly 25 years ago due to a lack of support.

Hughes said support is key for another Okotoks Legion to take root.

“It has to be supported by people in and around Okotoks.”

Jackson said the Turner Valley Legion is just getting by financially.

Funds raised during the poppy campaign must be used for specific projects and any dollars not used are sent to the provincial command in Calgary. The poppy donations, Jackson said, can’t be used to pay for such items like the heating bill, nor can they be squirreled away in a bank.

As a result, Jackson said, they have to be imaginative with their fundraising efforts. For example, the Turner Valley Legion will be hosing “Newfie Nights” on June 6-7. For $60 a person can dine on steak and a lobster while also supporting the Legion. (For tickets call 403-933-4564).

Jackson said the event will cost $50 per person, leaving $10 for the Turner Valley Legion.

If the Okotoks Legion is approved, Hughes is hopeful members can work out a deal with the Elks Club to meet in their building on Elizabeth Street, just as the previous Legion did.

“I think we can form a good relationship with the Elks,” he said.

Both Hughes and Jackson are optimistic that an Okotoks Legion will get the green light, first from the provincial command and then the national command.

They also agree that one challenge facing all Legions is attracting veterans who took part in the Afghanistan mission that lasted from 2001 to 2012.

Canada deployed more than 40,000 military personnel in Afghanistan and 158 died in combat. The Ottawa Sun reported May 5 that in addition to suffering long-term health issues, more than 3,200 soldiers will be diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

The Canadian Mental Health Association descibes PTSD as a mental illness that occurs when people who witness a traumatic event, can experience flashbacks and nightmares, have trouble sleeping and may constantly feel on edge.

Jackson reported the Turner Valley Legion is committed to creating a separate room for vets who need to meet privately to discuss PTSD issues.

The new room was the result of a workshop the Turner Valley Legion held a while back to ask veterans how best the facility could serve them. Jackson said a few veterans from the Afghanistan conflict showed up but they were in their 30s and 40s. He said he didn’t meet any younger Afghan veterans.

Hughes suspects Afghan vets in their 20s may be more interested in re-booting their civilian lives and starting a family, like he was in 1957 when he left the Royal Air Force in his native England. But, he added, the Legion is the place to be for veterans trying to return to a normal life while navigating the massive government bureaucracy.

Anyone looking for information about the proposed Okotoks Legion can email Okotoks.Legion@gmail.com


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