The American Legion Auxiliary –- the world's largest women's patriotic service organization –- will celebrate 100 years of service next year, along with the American Legion itself.
The history of the American Legion Post 2008 Auxiliary in Falcon isn't nearly as far reaching; it got its charter in early 2015. But the local auxiliary has been making its presence known, with activities ranging from visiting and supporting veterans at Bonaventure Senior Living on the north side of Colorado Springs to road cleanups to financing girls to attend Girls State, an educational program of the American Legion.
"We're a small group, but we do quite a lot," said Bettina Kosow, president of the local auxiliary. The group has grown to 45 members, up from a dozen or so when it was founded.
American Legion Post 2008 is formally called Dane R. Balcon Post 2008, The American Legion, in honor of U.S. Army Specialist Dane R. Balcon, a Falcon resident who died serving in Iraq.
Kosow’s husband, Chip, joined the post in the fall of 2014. (He went on to become commander of Post 2008 for a time, and now is a junior vice commander for the American Legion Department of Colorado.)
"When he came back from that first meeting, I said, 'What about us ladies?’ and I was told there was no auxiliary," Kosow said. "So I said, 'OK, what do we need to do?'"
So Kosow and others learned what they needed to do –- including securing a minimum of 10 members –- and the Auxiliary got its charter. Kosow signed on as vice president, "but our president stepped down almost immediately,” she said. “I was told by district, you either step up or we're taking your charter away. So I stepped up."
Kosow met Chip Kosow in her native Germany. A soldier, he was stationed there, and a friend introduced her to him.
"At first I thought he was a crazy American," she said, but love blossomed very quickly. They've been married for 30 years.
After marrying, they "did the whole one military station to the next."
"I didn't really have a clue what I was getting into," Kosow said. "It was a little bit scary." She went from the big city –- Berlin –- to "the middle of nowhere" in Louisiana. There was the language barrier to contend with; and, of course, there was no email back then so communication with home was through letters and once-a-month phone calls, Kosow said. She was homesick a lot at first. "But in the military, the wives hold together. You make good friends,” she said.
From Louisiana, it was on to Fort Bragg in North Carolina, Fort Devens in Massachusetts, Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri; and, ultimately, Fort Carson. Chip Kosow retired from the U.S. Army in 2001, and they moved to Falcon the next year, wanting "a little bit more space between our neighbors."
The couple have a daughter and two grandkids. Their daughter and granddaughter are members of the auxiliary, while their son-in-law and grandson are members of the Sons of the American Legion.
Post 2008 has about 240 members, Kosow said. While it, just like the auxiliary, is growing, she added, ”We're still not as well-known as I would like us to be known in the community. For me, the biggest thing in the post is family. We would love to see more veterans come and be part of the post family."
The auxiliary meets monthly at El Paso County Colorado District 49's Falcon Legacy Campus, as do Post 2008 members. "District 49 doesn’t charge us a penny, which is huge," Kosow said. With no permanent home and thus overhead, all the money the auxiliary raises can go to its causes and programs, she noted.
The vision of the American Legion Auxiliary, as stated on its website,"is to support the American Legion while becoming the premier service organization and foundation of every community providing support for our veterans, our military and their families by shaping a positive future in an atmosphere of fellowship, patriotism, peace and security."
"To keep everyone engaged is a lot of work," Kosow said."You don’t get paid; it's on your free time, and we all have busy lives. But it's so rewarding."
Some female veterans are members of both Post 2008 and the auxiliary. While the auxiliary has always been a women's group, there has been talk of allowing spouses of those female veterans as members.
"I know every single time I go to a convention, there is talk of changing it," Kosow said. "I think in the future we have to change it, just because it's the right thing to do."
Bettina Kosow, president of the American Legion Post 2008 Auxiliary, poses for a photo with a copy of the American Legion Auxiliary Unit Guide Book. Photo by Bill Radford