The national president of the American Legion Auxiliary visited Northwestern State University to speak to 408 delegates participating in Louisiana Girls State, a weeklong program designed to educate young women about good citizenship and how city, parish and state government work.
Peggy Thomas noted that Louisiana is unique in hosting Boys and Girls State on the same campus during the same week.
“It creates more interest for the citizens,” she said. “They can hear the same speakers.”
Thomas joined Col. Mark Wilhite, commander of Fort Polk’s Bayne-Jones Army Community Hospital, in addressing Boys and Girls State participants, who are referred to as citizens. Thomas talked to the girls, who will be seniors in high school, about leadership, the responsibility of being a good citizen and the principles of justice, freedom and democracy.
“The world is shrinking and we need to teach our young people the value of freedom and good government. This is where they get it. These are the best of the best. They are selected both for their high moral standards as well as high academic standards. The instructors are picked the same way,” Thomas said.
Thomas passed through Louisiana from Missouri and on her way to New Mexico. A resident of Richmond, Va., she travels about 345 days a year throughout the United State and to military bases and military hospitals all over the world. Prior to her current circuit, she had only been to Europe. Since then, she has been to Puerto Rico, Alaska, Korea, Okinawa, Taiwan, Guam and Hawaii, interacting with patients at VA hospitals and veterans’ retirement homes.
She recounted a recent visit to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, the largest military hospital outside the United States that serves as the nearest treatment center for wounded soldiers coming from Iraq and Afghanistan. There she visited injured servicemen and women from the United States and other nations.
“It’s important for them to be able to be able to hear from someone ‘We appreciate your service and we support you,’” she said. “The price of freedom is very visible there.”
Thomas has also been to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, the location where the remains of military servicemen and women are identified and processed.
Being there “brings home that it’s real,” she said.
Thomas said it is a common misconception that the American Legion and American Legion Auxiliary only work with veterans.
“We also support active military, National Guard and their families. We are often the voice for them and can advocate for issues on the state and federal level,” she said.
Thomas was joined at Northwestern State by Monique Batiste, last year’s Department of Louisiana Auxiliary president, who is now serving on the national level as national executive committeewoman. Batiste is a liaison between the national organization and its affiliates in Louisiana.
Louisiana Boys State and Louisiana Girls State will continue through Saturday. Northwestern State has hosted the program since 2007.