American Legion National Commander stops in Morris
MORRIS, Minn. - United States veterans, who make up between seven and eight percent of the U.S. population, should not be expected to sacrifice more through federal budget cuts to the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs, American Legion National Commander Fang Wong told a group of more than 60 veterans and local residents over dinner at the American Legion in Morris on Tuesday.
Wong's stop in Morris was part of a four-day Minnesota tour that took him from Fairbault to Chanhassen, along with Department Commander Chuck Kruger, Membership Director Denise Milton, and Adjutant Randy Tesdahl.
"The goal [of the tour] is really simple," said Wong, "to have the opportunity to get together with the local Legionnaires and let them know a little bit about me and have a chance to meet and find out their concerns, what I can help them with or answer."
Wong was born in Canton, China, and immigrated to the United States with his family in 1960 as a 12-year-old by. Three years later, Wong became a naturalized citizen. Wong joined the U.S. Army in 1969 and served for 25 months in Vietnam. After a long career in the Army, Wong retired as a chief warrant officer in 1989 and from his position at L-3 Communications in 2011.
Wong is a member of the Lt. B.R. Kimlau Chinese Memorial Post 1291 in New York, and was elected National Commander in September 2011 at the American Legion National Convention in Minneapolis.
Speaking off-the-cuff and answering questions from the audience, Wong spent much of his presentation discussing some of his concerns about the federal budget and how required cuts will impact spending on veterans services and national defense.
Although the Department of Veterans Affairs budget is at an all-time high, after seeing increases under former president George W. Bush, Wong said the budget doesn't accurately reflect the number of veterans in need of services because the budget is based on the number of registered veterans (about five million) rather than the actual number of veterans in the United States (more than 20 million).
When talking to politicians, Wong said he has repeatedly heard that the the national budget is in bad shape, and that all organizations, including the Department of Defense and VA will need to come to the table and make sacrifices. He said Sen. John McCain told him organizations would need to draw a line in the sand to know at what level to defend the organizations' funding.
"I looked at him and basically said, 'Senator, I don't know and I don't think you know what the sandbox looks like, so how do you expect me to draw a line in the sand? I can't.'" said Wong.
A month later, the National Executive Committee of the American Legion passed Resolution No. 1, which said the American Legion would not accept any more defense cuts, Wong said.
"We drew the line in the sand at that time," said Wong. "We wanted to hold the line. That's our line."
Wong also expressed concern about aging equipment and military technological development. On one recent visit to a military base, Wong said he was given a look at the military's top spy plane, which was first produced back in 1980.
"If we don't stay on top of it, other people in the world will get caught up," said Wong. "We don't have the next battle tank coming along the line," said Wong. Those are the things that people may not be aware of. Those are the things we need to be very concerned about - whether or not we're losing our competitive edge of being a power that other nations fear."
In addition to supporting a strong national defense, Wong emphasized that it is important to maintain services for veterans who have returned from service.
"The other concern, obviously, is how to take care of the young warriors when they come home," said Wong. "That is a big concern for us, not just for us, it should be a big concern for the whole nation. If we don't take care of that, it will add a lot more problems to the problems we're facing now."
"The American Legion is here for veterans," Wong added. "We're here to offer our service and support for veterans, of all generations."