Last Updated: Apr 27th, 2015 - 11:04:56

Veteran continues to serve
By Blake Belden, staff writer
Jun 17, 2014, 13:22

BLAKE BELDEN/HOPEWELL NEWS/NEWS-PATRIOT James Althouse stood next to his girlfriend, Mari Wells, as he was officially initiated into his new role as the commander of Post 284 on Thursday.
COLONIAL HEIGHTS — When James Althouse smiled from behind the podium on Thursday evening as the new commander of the American Legion Post 284, he was not only elated to be elected for the role, but he was dedicated to educating the community and mending a certain disconnect that exists between veterans and their community.

Althouse, a Desert Storm veteran who served 21 years in the Army, was inducted as the new commander of Post 284 during a regular meeting on Thursday evening.

He retired from the military in 2001 and has a 22-year relationship with the American Legion organization.

When Althouse describes his long-time passion and commitment to the American Legion organization, he speaks of the duty that U.S. citizens have in honoring the soldiers who fight at home and overseas for the freedoms that all citizens enjoy every day.

“The American Legion and other veterans service organizations try to keep that memory, or those thoughts of the military, fresh in everyone’s head by making sure that important things like Memorial Day and Veterans Day are remembered not just as a day to go picnic ... but also the meanings behind the days, and why do we still owe veterans a great debt of gratitude,” Althouse said.

On a national level, the American Legion organization led the movement to investigate Veterans Affairs in regard to delayed appointments and problems related to veterans’ health care services. They have also been responsible for keeping an eye on veterans’ pay and compensation and veterans residential facilities, services that are key to the organization’s mission both locally and nationally, Althouse said.

“A lot of our veterans have different varying burdens: medical care, homelessness, you name it. So, it’s rewarding to help them out, and [get] other people to help them out, too,” Althouse said, emphasizing the fact that the post is a great outlet to attract volunteer work that might not be offered otherwise.

As commander, Althouse said that his job will be to educate the community, veterans and non-veterans alike, on what services can be provided and help promote awareness and convenience for these services, in addition to giving back to the community through scholarship programs in local schools and events or programs such as Halloween in the Park and the Children & Youth Program.

With the American Legion’s 100th Anniversary approaching in 2019, Althouse has a vision to push for post improvements to ready for this big event.

Althouse has strived to become a commander for the past decade, but wanted to sit behind the scenes and learn the skills necessary for the job rather than attempting to jump right into a position of leadership.

In 2010, Althouse felt that he had developed the duties and competency required of the commander position, and asked to be considered to fit the role, and worked his way up to the ladder to get there.

When he was attending school at Fort Lee, Althouse first became a member of the Legion in Colonial Heights before transferring through many other posts in the country when he moved for military purposes.

When he retired from the Army in 2001, Althouse was drawn to central Virginia more than any other place he had been stationed in the country, and took residence in Colonial Heights, a decision that he was proud he made.

“I look around and I look at Southpark, Fort Lee, the rebirth of Petersburg, all the changes in downtown Richmond and how much things have improved. I don’t regret this decision. This is a great community to live in,” Althouse said, stressing his pride in the region another reason he is passionate to give back to the area through the post.

Althouse, who replaced former post commander John Ronkartz, was joined by Mari Wells, his girlfriend, on Thursday evening as he was initiated into his new role as the commander of the post.

Althouse has one son, Talon, who is currently earning his master’s degree at the University of Richmond.

Post 284 is the third largest American Legion post in Virginia, with over 1,100 existing members.

Althouse helped found the post’s American Legion Rider chapter, the first one established in Virginia, where he served as the group’s second director.

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