The Kern River Valley Chamber of Commerce awarded Mike Brownell its 2018 Man of the Year Award at the 31st annual Man & Woman of the Year Awards Dinner at Paradise Cove Lodge on January 8. First District Supervisor Mick Gleason presented Mike with a Certificate of Recognition and Christian Chacon of Assemblyman Devon Mathis’ office presented framed Certificates. Mike was honored for his leadership role as President of the American Legion Riders Chapter 711. Mike was a driving factor behind numerous American Legion Kern River Valley Post 711 endeavors and accomplishments such as; Visit-A-Vet & Check-A-Vet programs, fundraising efforts for veterans who were affected by the Erskine Fire, the revitalization of the displays & memorials at Lake Isabella Park, and the reopening of the Kern County Courthouse in Lake Isabella.
Kern River Valley Post 711
By Elise Modrovich / September 6, 2017
Photo by Elise Modrovich
Members of the American Legion Kern River Valley 711 “family” help hand-out food items at the monthly USDA Food Commodities Distribution, put on by the Rotary Club of Kern River Valley along with Community Action Partnership of Kern (CAPK.org), to provide much needed food to the Kern River Valley.
If you’ve been at the monthly Food Box Distributions, were around during the Erskine Fire Recovery efforts, attended the Pride Day clean up along Highway 178, or ventured to the Tank Park Memorial in Lake Isabella, you may have seen what, on the surface, looked like a biker gang. A “biker gang” that helps to deliver food to the hungry, gives assistance to the sick, injured and homeless, cleans up roads, visits and aids veterans in hospitals and around the valley, maintains memorials, educates primary schoolchildren about the flag salute, and even distributes backpacks for kids to the local Moose and Elks Lodges. This “gang” is the American Legion Kern River Valley 711 “family,” an amazing, selfless community support organization which encompasses the American Legion “Post,” the original men’s association, the “Auxiliary Unit,” which is the adjunct women’s group, and the “Riders Chapter,” the mobile team that visits veterans in hospitals and homes to provide support and assistance.
The American Legion was formed in 1917, to help take care of U.S. Veterans, and the Auxiliary was founded shortly thereafter, in 1919, during World War I, to help aid soldiers returning home “because all the men were off fighting and the women left behind took up the banner,” says Ruby Reed, the 711 Auxiliary Unit’s Historian. So, how did a veteran’s support group evolve into the community outreach organization it is today? Samantha Kessler, President of the 711 Auxiliary Unit, states, “As times progressed and different needs arose, our need to help evolved to encompass more.” In addition to all the contributions already listed here, the American Legion supports local youth programs, FFA, One Spade Youth Packers, and Girls State and Boys State Leadership Conferences. Coming up this Fall, they are putting all their charitable force behind their annual Stand Down Veteran Outreach and Support event here in the KRV.
Stand Down events sponsored by American Legion Auxiliary Units all across the United States are designed to help the nation’s estimated 67,000 homeless veterans on any given night “combat” life on the streets through a “hand up, not hand out” philosophy. This “hand up” includes a wide array of services and resources that can vary depending on the local capacity and needs of veterans in the area who attend. For the valley, that means providing food, clothing, hygiene products, benefits assistance, medical check-ups, and even mental health counseling. “The Stand Down was designed for homeless vets, but I would like to reach them before they become homeless,” says Reed. The KRV Unit 711’s Stand Down will take place at the Lake Isabella Veterans and Senior Center on Saturday, November 4. “This is our second annual event,” says Kessler. “We put our first event together in only two weeks and helped seventy-nine local vets. This year, we got a much bigger head start and are hoping to reach a lot more.” The Ridgecrest Stand Down is slated for September 22, and the Bakersfield event will take place on October 5. “That one is enormous,” notes Reed. “They reach thousands of people from all over the county. For our event, we’re focused solely on the needs of the vets in our valley.”
When commended for their tireless volunteer work with so many different charitable organizations, events and veterans both in the valley and in neighboring cities throughout the county, the AL 711 won’t hear of it. “We’re just doing what’s right, what needs to be done to help and support the vets and our community,” says Jim Dunn, Commander of Post 711. “And we get to ride our bikes with our friends and terrorize the community while we’re at it,” jokes Bud Reed, President of the Chapter 711 Riders.
The American Legion Post 711 represents camaraderie, community, leadership, education, outreach, service, support, and “the faithful performance of the duties of citizenship.” If you’re interested in being a part of this unique “gang” of selfless volunteers, they are always looking for new members. Any active military or retired, honorably discharged veteran qualifies for membership to the Post with annual dues of $40, and for the Auxiliary, any woman related to an AL member, serving military, or deceased veteran can join for just $20 annually. And then YOU can “be ever watchful of our organization and ourselves, that nothing shall swerve us from the path of Justice, Freedom and Democracy