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One of the biggest champions for veterans past and present in the state hails from Harford County.

Betty Stahm, elected in June to serve as president of the Maryland Veterans of Foreign Wars Auxiliary for the 2016-17 year, is responsible for supporting veterans in a variety of ways, and it is a role she has embraced with gusto.

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"It just makes you feel good and it makes you feel gratified," Stahm said about her experience as head of the state's auxiliary. "I just felt like I could make a difference in reaching out to the Auxiliaries and helping them serve our vets."

"It's a sisterhood and brotherhood. We have one thing in common, and that is our vets," she said.

Pamela Adle-Watts laid her hand on her son's name and stopped for a moment. Then she stepped back and stood quietly with her husband, Michael, by her son and looked at the memorial to her son, fallen hero Marine Reservist Lance Cpl. Patrick Ryan Adle.

Stahm, who is 60, first joined the VFW Auxiliary in 2009. Born in Baltimore, she has lived in Jarrettsville for 22 years and qualifies for the Auxiliary through her husband, Gary, who served in the Navy during the Vietnam War.

Her home post, in Rosedale, is the largest in Maryland, with 717 auxiliary members and 1,400 members.

(Auxiliary members can join any VFW Auxiliary in the state, and even other states.)

Stahm oversees a state organization with more than 8,000 members.

As required by the national VFW Auxiliary, she rose through the ranks, called "chairs," including serving as guard and chaplain, before she was eligible to be elected president.

Just in time for Memorial Day, a memorial remembering a fallen Harford County hero has come to his home county thanks to members of the Jarrettsville VFW.

She also oversees a group looking for new ways to expand its membership base. Most recently, she said, the national VFW Auxiliary agreed to open itself to males, which led to 603 men joining in Maryland and 17,590 nationwide.

There are 58 auxiliaries in Maryland, with two new ones opening in the next month, she said.

"Not every post has an auxiliary, but we are trying to change that," she said. "We are definitely trying to grow the organization, because our voices and our money go to support our veterans."

Established in 1914, the auxiliary is the nation's oldest veterans' service organization, according to its website, and has served both veterans and their families.

The Harford Commission on Veterans Affairs will host a veterans information fair at the Bel Air Armory on Saturday, Oct. 8, from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

"My passion is for my vets. Once it's in your blood, you just see what these guys are coming home with, and suffering from mental illness," she noted. "They are coming home with limbs that are lost."

She explained that her personal focus is on homeless veterans.

Each president is expected to work on a special project, and funds raised by Stahm go toward the Maryland Center for Veterans Education and Training (MCVET), which serves more than 250 veterans daily.

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"With what these men and women are doing for our country, they really should never be homeless. However, we cannot just give them a house," she said. "You need to recognize the problem; you can't just put a Band-Aid on it."

"You look at these guys at MCVET's and you see they are really trying to get their lives together," Stahm said.

Being in her position means "you see veterans at hospitals and you can put a smile on their face just by visiting."

The Edgewood High School Alumni Association plans to erect a memorial stone in front of the school to honor former EHS students who died in the line of duty while serving in the military, law enforcement or fire service.

JoAnne Bierly, a contributor to The Record and secretary for the Jerry Skrivanek VFW Auxiliary in Port Deposit, sent in a photo of Stahm surrounded by her family.

"Her whole family supports her efforts to help the veterans in Maryland," Bierly pointed out about Stahm.

Bierly, who has known Stahm for several years since Bierly joined her auxiliary 10 years ago, said Stahm chose the theme of "Full Steam Ahead" with a steam train because of her son, who loves trains.

"She is very energetic, she has got a lot of support from her family," Bierly said, noting she was glad to see Stahm choose MCVET for her project.

At Bierly's auxiliary, "we very much want to go and see this place. She has talked about it every time we talk about anything. We just think it's so worthwhile."

"I am just liking her enthusiasm and she just seems like a mover and shaker," Bierly said.

Leaving military service does not necessarily mean just getting accolades and special benefits. For many veterans, it can mean a struggle with mental health, notably post-traumatic stress syndrome, or drug and alcohol abuse that can spiral into brushes with crime.

Stahm, who has four children and previously worked for a printing and paper company, said her volunteer role has kept her busy, as she travels around the region and even the country to meet veterans in hospitals and spread the word about the auxiliary.

She recently went to Mount Rushmore for the Celebrating America's Freedom Event (CAFE) and pointed out September is Suicide Awareness Month as she mentioned the toll mental illness and suicide have taken on the nation's veterans.

She has also, for example, gone to elementary schools to visit with children and teach them about patriotism.

Besides helping veterans, Stahm also serves in a motivational role, she said, explaining she follows the national auxiliary's standards in following programs like defending "Americanism," supporting hospitals, backing legislation, awarding scholarships and supporting the VFW National Home for Children as well as youth activities.

As the World War II generation of veterans gets smaller, the largest group of VFW members may be from the Vietnam War, Stahm said.

She enjoys the opportunity to show them they are appreciated, long after many of them were not given support.

"Even with this whole NFL flag [controversy with players refusing to salute] – yeah, our veterans gave them that right, but you know what, that red, white and blue, that red represents the bloodshed that our soldiers have given us," Stahm said. "I feel Vietnam veterans never got a welcome home. Fifty years is a long time to wait for a welcome home."

Stahm said she always takes time to thank a veteran when she sees one because "it's way overdue."

"We definitely want to grow our organization so we can continue to serve our veterans, both past and present," Stahm noted.

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