In the calm air of Hodgenville, Ky., there’s a spirit of generosity. Whether it’s fixing a flat tire or borrowing a cup of sugar, the people of Hodgenville work to help out when they can. Brandan Roten feels this is a defining characteristic of the town he calls home. That’s why it was an easy decision to join the American Legion Auxiliary (ALA), a 100-year-old patriotic volunteer service organization. Turns out it was also a decision that would make Kentucky history.
Roten became the first male ALA member in all of Kentucky, a momentous membership that wouldn’t have been possible until recently. Since September 2019, American Legion Auxiliary membership eligibility has been extended to include male spouses of U.S. veterans and servicemembers.
It was an essential edit to the membership rules, considering the ever-evolving face of the military. By 2045, the share of female veterans is expected to double to 18%, according to “5 Facts about U.S. Veterans,” by Kristen Bialik, at www.pewresearch.org. Allowing men to join this organization in support of their spouses was the right thing to do, but it would also prove an adjustment for the new members.
“It was nerve-wracking to join an organization that was known for being all women,” Roten admitted, “but I support my wife and everything she’s done for the military. This was an opportunity for me to bring in new ideas and be a part of something, and the good work goes beyond gender.”
Roten’s wife, Ashley, was a food inspector in the military for six years. Their marriage helped him see the variety of skills that people can bring to the table in service of the military. “My wife helped me understand the different roles you can take in the military and how every job is important,” Roten said. Since joining the ALA, Roten’s entire family has become involved in assisting at events and programs, including his kids. And his role in the organization has grown too.
In late February, Roten was named vice president of his ALA unit, an opportunity to help chart the future of the legacy organization that he found so exciting. In fact, he’s already planning some events to try and get young people interested in the ALA in hopes of strengthening it for years to come.
Since the ALA changed its eligibility requirements, men from across the country have started joining their local units and helping out. Most male ALA members don’t know any other men who are a part of this organization. Roten is hoping to change that.
“I want people to feel free to sit in and see what we’re about. You’ll meet so many wonderful people. You may have passed them on the street and never really known where they’re coming from,” Roten said. With Hodgenville’s culture of helping, he’s optimistic about what the future holds for the American Legion Auxiliary.
For more information on how to volunteer, join and donate, visit www.ALAforVeterans.org.