National American Legion Commander Denise H. Rohan, who took a tour of Arkansas-based Legion posts during the week of Veterans Day, visited downtown Texarkana's Posts 25 and 58 on Monday.
Rohan was elected as the Legion's first female commander Aug. 24 in Reno, Nev., during the Legion's 99th annual national convention.
With nearly 2 million members, this 98-year-old military veterans organization remains one of the largest veterans organizations in the U.S. But to Rohan, all 2 million are like family.
"When I first joined the Legion (33 years ago), it was like a whole new family and it's still like a family," Rohan said. "When I first joined the U.S. Army (43 years ago), I became homesick, but my mom reminded me that as a woman, I shared a sisterhood with all the other women serving at that time. Now, with my new job, my husband Mike has become like the 'first gentleman' of the American Legion."
Rohan said she feels very much at home as the Legion's national commander.
"When I sat in the commander's chair for the first time, I noticed how comfortable it was, and that's when I felt, for the first time, that the job was really made for a woman," she said. "It feels both amazing and challenging to be the new commander. We have nearly 2 million members, and the great thing about that is the fact that women were welcomed into the organization all the way back to 1919."
Rohan said her father spent a lot of time coaching baseball, and she was glad to see the Legion eventually start its own baseball program for children.
"Many kids involved in the Legion's program learned what it's like to be an American, and the boys my dad coached went on to grow up and become volunteers and give back to their communities," she said.
As she visits American Legion posts across the country, Rohan said she is encouraging them to invite the public in to learn how the organization promotes the defense of America.
Born in McGregor, Iowa, Rohan lived in Elkader, Iowa, until leaving in 1974 for Army basic training at Fort McClellan, Ala. After training, she was assigned as a stock control and accounting specialist and a repair parts specialist course instructor at Fort Lee, Va. She was honorably discharged in August 1976.
Rohan and her husband, Mike, live in Verona, Wis., where she has served the American Legion since 1984.
Before her transfer to Post 385 in Verona, she served as the commander of Post 333 in Sun Prairie, Wis., where she established a Sons of the American Legion squadron and chartered a Boy Scouts troop.
"Today, we want to plant a seed in your heart to continue to protect and defend the county as veterans both active and retired, past and present," she said.
Listen to some of Rohan's radio interviews to hear more from Rohan about the organization's priorities and veterans issues.