- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 18, 2009

“Children will announce they want to serve in our nation’s military, and teachers will applaud their aspirations, rather than regard them as lowering their standards. Parents need to see veterans for what they are: the best that every generation had to offer,” states Executive Director David Bellavia on the Web site of the Warrior Legacy Foundation.

This nonprofit was launched on Memorial Day weekend by some veterans who say that many existing organizations — with the exception of the American Legion, which they admire — have not been effective in advocating for the needs of veterans, nor in defending their reputation. The group’s mission is to transform the way American veterans are portrayed in the media and the popular culture.

Among the passionate leaders of the Warrior Legacy Foundation is veteran and D.C. resident Jim Hanson, 44. He is better known by his pen name Uncle Jimbo and as the founder of a leading military blog site, Blackfive. In the May 18 press release announcing the Warrior Legacy Foundation, Mr. Hanson stated that many veterans and service members have expressed “frustration” with veterans groups that attempt “to represent veterans issues but seem to have ulterior motives — painting veterans as victims is an easy way to raise money and get media attention.” By contrast, the Warrior Legacy Foundation seeks to “protect the reputation and dignity of America’s warriors.”

The foundation concept emerged when Mr. Hanson and Mr. Bellavia had a conversation about the current status of American veterans. “We talked about how the administration tried to make veterans pay for their own health care, how the DHS [Department of Homeland Security] memos painted all veterans as right-wing extremists and potential terrorists, and how there was no one, aside from the American Legion, really working to defend veterans,” Mr. Hanson said. To counteract these forces, the pair, along with other veterans, decided that establishing a foundation willing to work across party lines was the only solution.

In an interview with The Washington Times, the combative and fiery Mr. Hanson said the organization wants to avoid getting “into the weeds” of politics. He lampoons institutions that pretend to be nonpartisan yet endorse political candidates. The “military is nonpartisan by definition,” he said. “I don’t care who sits in the White House. I wore the uniform under Ronald Reagan, George Bush and Bill Clinton.” The mission of the foundation is to educate America about the people who have served and their accomplishments.

“We will do very little lobbying or advocacy with Congress,” Mr. Hanson said. “We want to tell stories about those who served.”

In particular, the Warrior Legacy Foundation seeks to counteract the media narrative that “veterans are victims,” Mr. Hanson said. “The vast majority of those who served came back proud of what they did, proud of what they accomplished.” That message needs to be heard as much as the message “about death and destruction.” He is hoping the Warrior Legacy Foundation will integrate “into the daily fabric of American life” gratitude among all citizens and recognition for the service of the troops in defending freedom.

“We’re America’s police; we’re the world’s police,” he said. “When evil rears its ugly head, we take care of it.” He said that those who served in Iraq contributed to the liberation of 50 million people living “under the boot of Saddam” and the Taliban in Afghanistan. He added that Afghans “now have a say in how they are being governed.” These accomplishments are being vastly understated in the mainstream media, Mr. Hanson said.

The Warrior Legacy Foundation is a grass-roots campaign with an open membership, including civilians who have not served. Mr. Hanson said the foundation will counteract negative stereotypes about veterans by creating a “viral network, a social network” that he hopes will change public perceptions. He said they are building a “person-to-person” messaging campaign. He wants Americans to spread the word about the specific positive contributions service members have made in foreign wars. “You can make a difference by talking to neighbors about what your cousin did in Iraq, for example, or thanking service members in airports,” he said, encouraging all Americans to join in advancing the organization’s cause.

The Warrior Legacy Foundation is, in essence, putting the political establishment and the mainstream media on notice: Veterans want respect and recognition for their role as the guardians of America’s most cherished values, both at home and abroad.

• Grace Vuoto is the editor of Base News, a citizen journalism project of the Washington Times for America’s military community.

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