Alicia Knecht didn't have any intention to join the American Legion.
But 11 years ago, when her father-in-law asked her to join Dewey Lowman Post 109, she did, not knowing what to expect.
"Before I joined, it just seemed like an old man's club. I didn't know what they could possibly do for me," she said. "But when I walked in there, they were instantly welcoming."
It was then she realized that every American Legion member shares a unique experience — one that transcends generational barriers.
Now, at 34, she's the Halethorpe post's newest commander. She is the second woman to serve as top leader at the post, which was founded in 1933.
Originally from Yankton, S.D., Knecht served in the Army from 1999 to 2002 as an intelligence analyst, stationed in Korea and Fort Hood, Texas. She met her husband, who grew up in Catonsville, and when they both left the military, they came to Maryland. She has lived in Arbutus for 10 years.
As commander, she wants to change the image of the American Legion, making it more welcoming for women and younger veterans by creating more family friendly events so that they won't have to find a babysitter whenever they want to stop by. She is a homemaker with two children, ages 14 and 8.
She also wants members to get more involved with the community and not be what she called "the post hiding among the trees."
"Being around there so long, talking to previous commanders, you get a good idea of what it takes to run the post and take the position," she said. "I wanted to take on the challenge."
It's the membership that keeps the American Legion alive, she said.
As members who are World War II veterans are dying, she knows it is important for the next generation to join. She remembers about eight years ago when membership was at about 1,400. Now, it's closer to 1,100 she said
With more than 2.3 million members nationally, the American Legion is the largest wartime veterans service organization. On a national level, the has marketing efforts to attract younger veterans to what it has to offer for them and their spouses.
"We always welcome younger members into the organization," said John Raughter, a national spokesman. "They're the lifeblood that keeps our membership growing."
On a local level, the post's executive board has few younger veterans, according to Chuck Catterton, the post's outgoing commander. He is hopeful Knecht can draw a younger group of veterans to the post.
"Us older guys, we've had our time," he said. "It's time for younger men and women to come up and put in their own ideas."
He believes Knecht is right for the job — dedicated with the ability not only to lead, but to have others follow her. He's optimistic she will implement new programs and ideas that will better serve the community and its veterans.
"She can handle the job," he said. "She can keep the ball rolling."
Dewey Lowman, the namesake of the post, was a seaman from Arbutus who was aboard the U.S.S. Cyclops when the ship was lost at sea in 1918 in the area of the Bermuda Triangle.
In addition to its Monday Bingo nights and its regular appearances at public patriotic events, the post is also home to the Original 27 Flags group, which promotes the history of the American flag.
Knecht said she has seen Iraq and Afghanistan veterans sign up for membership at Post 109, but not get involved. She wants that to change.
The Legion can be a resource for new veterans, she said, acknowledging that the transition from military life to civilian life can be daunting.
"It's sad to see when someone signs up and we don't see them," she said. "We know we can be there for them. We know we can help them."