By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer, firstname.lastname@example.org
As the American Legion celebrates its 100th anniversary this year, Darlington’s Post 13 is moving into a new era by naming Brenda Jenkins as its first female adjutant.
A self-described “Marine Corps brat” who grew up all over the world, Jenkins continued her dad’s tradition of service by enlisting in the Air Force in 1980. There, she met and married her husband, and their complementary jobs as mechanic and statistician for F-16 fighter jets kept them working together for most of their careers.
Jenkins says her 20-year stint with the Air Force took her to some interesting places, but one particular assignment placed her at a pivot point for freedom in the Western world.
“We were in Germany when the Berlin Wall fell,” says Jenkins. “It was awesome because we got to see the wall as it was, and we were the last duty station so we got to take a train into the area while it was all happening. We saw people with hammers breaking it down.”
Jenkins says she loaded up on souvenirs of this momentous occasion, and still has several pieces of the Berlin Wall on display in her home.
Jenkins’ last duty station was Shaw Air Force Base in Sumter, and she and her husband moved to Darlington when he got a local job opportunity.
He had joined the American Legion prior to the move and decided to check out a local meeting of Post 13. Brenda went with him and joined the post four years ago. She became fast friends with many local veterans, including post adjutant Mike Beckham.
After she got acclimated and learned about how the post functions, Jenkins says Beckham asked if she would be interested in taking on more responsibility.
“Mike asked if I would become adjutant, and I was honored. I told him I would love to help, and we came to find out that there has never been a female adjutant at Post 13 before. We both thought that was pretty awesome,” Jenkins says.
Though she cautions that Beckham is giving her some “big shoes to fill,” she feels confident that she can help guide the local Legion into a more tech-savvy future. Jenkins currently works with BB&T and her experience with banking – not to mention cutting-edge aircraft systems – have developed her facility with computers and the Internet.
“I’ve had a website created, and mainly I’m doing the technical stuff like creating a Facebook page, keeping all the spreadsheets, and pretty much anything that’s computer geeky stuff. That’s my area of expertise,” Jenkins says.
Additionally, the adjutant is responsible for tracking dues collected and managing all the associated paperwork for the organization.
By assuming a bigger role with Post 13, Jenkins says she hopes to increase the Legion’s number of female members. Since one of the American Legion’s primary goals is to help all veterans get the services they need, Jenkins says bringing more women into the fold could help this underserved group receive the support and care they deserve.
In 2013, The American Legion “System Worth Saving” Task Force found several challenges facing female veterans regarding Veterans Administration health care. For example, the study found that many female veterans do not identify themselves as veterans, and many female veterans do not know or understand what benefits they are entitled to receive.
“I would love to see more women come in and join. They could bring a wider perspective on things that the Legion could do and ways that we could help,” she says.
Locally, American Legion Post 13 remains active in numerous ways, like providing assistance for vets who need health care, visiting veterans during illness and ensuring that service members who pass away are buried with appropriate military honors.
The post also stages patriotic observances on Memorial Day and Veterans Day at the Darlington County Courthouse. These ceremonies give the public a chance to say thank you to service members, and provide a place for vets to meet up, trade stories and hear from guest speakers with military backgrounds.
Jenkins says these guest speakers often surprise the crowd with their fascinating stories, like when Lt. Col. Don Cann (USAF retired) spoke about his 333 combat missions during the Vietnam War, and brought the very pen used to sign the cessation of hostilities at the war’s end.
“Every person, every veteran, has a piece of history within them. That’s what he brought to us, and that was a unique experience for everybody who came that day,” Jenkins says.
The Darlington Veterans Memorial at the corner of Main Street and Orange Street is one of the post’s proudest achievements, and Jenkins says there are plans to expand the park in the near future. Three additional walls of engraved bricks – each dedicated to a military member – will be added to the existing four walls.
The park also includes monuments to local military heroes James Elliott Williams and William “Billy” Farrow and a monument to fallen soldiers.
In order to qualify for membership in the American Legion, a service member must have served in one of the following conflicts: WWI (April 6, 1917 – Nov. 11, 1918), WWII (Dec. 7, 1941 – Dec. 31, 1946) Korean War (June 25, 1950 – Jan. 31, 1955), Vietnam War
(Feb. 28, 1961 – May 7, 1975), Lebanon / Grenada (Aug. 24, 1982 – July 31, 1984), Panama (Dec. 20, 1989 – Jan. 31, 1990), Gulf War / War on Terrorism (Aug. 2, 1990 – present).
To inquire about membership, visit the Post 13 Legion Hut located at 1752 Harry Byrd Highway for one of their meetings, which take place every second Thursday at 6 p.m.
For more information, visit them online at www.dalp13.org or on Facebook.