Ahwatukee Legion post gets first woman commander

Ahwatukee American Legion Post 64 Commander Brenda Smull assumed the leadership post last Wednesday of the community’s only veterans organizations just before a memorial service was held for Post 64 Legionnaires who passed away last year. (David Minton/AFN Staff Photographer)

For the first time in its 40-year history, a woman is the top officer in Ahwatukee’s only veterans organization.

Commander Brenda Smull of Ahwatukee was unanimously voted by her comrades last week to lead American Legion Post 64, becoming the 14th veteran to head the post.

Smull succeeds Realtor Peter Meier, one of Ahwatukee’s pioneers who held the position in 2014-16 and has been its leader since 2018.

Meier is now second vice commander. Other officers elected last week include Al Hunter, first vice commander; Roddy Charlton, adjutant; Craig Amis, service officer; Rebecca Schmidt, chaplain; Jay Hendrix, treasurer; and Mark Shillinger, sergeant at arms.

The IT director for Charles Schwab and an Ahwatukee resident for over five years, Smull becomes one of only 613 female commanders among the 12,248 Legion posts in the United States.

She also is one of a comparatively small number of female Legionnaires: The 59,744 women who belong to the American Legion in the nation represent only 4.16% of the 1,435,938 Legionnaires, although national American Legion spokesman John Raughter said the gender of another 96,724 members is unknown.

Mirroring the national statistics, the 1,669 women who belong to Legion posts in Arizona represent only 4.84% of the 34,484 Arizona members of the 104-year-old veterans organization.

“We have had a woman national commander and are seeing many fill the positions of post and department (state) commanders,” Raughter said. “It certainly doesn’t mean that we are satisfied with the status quo and we certainly encourage more women veterans to join the Legion and seek leadership positions.”

A native of New Brunswick, New Jersey, Smull comes from a family with a long history of military service and participation in veterans organizations.

While majoring in biochemistry at Rutgers University not far from her hometown, Smull enlisted in the Army ROTC and was called into combat not long after earning her degree.

She was among the troops who participated in Operation Desert Storm in 1991 and served as a signal platoon leader in the 1st Cavalry Division.

She joined the American Legion after that, signing up with the post in New Brunswick where her father, a World War II veteran, belonged.

She joined Post 64 after moving here from Colorado, where she was an officer in a Veterans of Foreign Wars chapter.

Smull regards her new position as an opportunity to broaden Post 64’s ranks with more younger veterans and heightening its visibility in the community.

”We want to do more activities in the community that people are interested in – that help veterans, but not just flag ceremonies,” she said. “I think that will attract more young people.”

Of the 131 members of Post 64 “there’s a lot of people between the ages of 55 and 65, so I want to tap into the people 40 to 60,” said Smull.

The Ahwatukee post’s first Gen X commander, Smull noted that baby boomers comprise over three-quarters of Post 64’s ranks.

“We’ve got to get people engaged,” she said, pointing to a social she organized last month as one way she intends to do it.

“It was just people doing things, having fun,” she said, adding fun activities peppered among more staid ritual ceremonies is one way she believes she can expand Post 64’s membership.

“The other thing I want to do is partner with other veterans groups, like U.S. Vets,” she said.

U.S. Vets focuses on “the successful transition of military veterans and their families through the provision of housing, counseling, career development and comprehensive support.” It recently opened a shelter for homeless female veterans in Phoenix.

Smull sees Ahwatukee as an untapped source of veterans, who may total between 5,000 and 10,000 here.

To help attract them, the post has revived the position of service officer.

“That’s the key person who helps vets deal with the VA and navigates them through the VA,” she said.

Smull is also forming bridges between the post and other organizations. Recently Post 64 became a charter organization of Boy Scout Troop 172 in Tempe.

“There’s a whole pool of veterans that are fathers and grandfathers or mothers of Boy Scouts,” she said. “So that’s another way to build bridges. But I’m trying to reach out to other organizations in the community to do more. I’ve got a whole plan.”

Smull is counting on her history of leading soldiers and coworkers to help achieve that plan.

The author of a book titled “Simple Words and Simple Truths" – which incorporates speeches and blogs she has written over the last nine years – Smull also counts on her abilities as a communicator, which she sharpened as the public relations coordinator for both the Ahwatukee and district Toastmasters organization.

“Our overall message to any age is ‘what can we do to help you as a veteran?’” she explained. “It’s going to be all about service. Generation X and millennials want to do things that are meaningful. They don’t want to just do a flag ceremony.

“They want to participate in a cause that has meaning and purpose, so that’s why I am going to say to younger people, ‘We’re now going to get more involved with students. We’ll get more involved with homeless vets, more female vets and all that.’

“Then, with the older folks, we’re going to keep the traditions. We’re still going to do Memorial Day. We’re still going to do the Ahwatukee Easter Parade,” she continued. “So, the traditions will be maintained but with a younger, more energetic spin on other important activities.”

She said she’s bringing with her many ideas she gleaned from activities as

an officer in a Denver Legion post, which had about 200 members, many veterans of Middle East conflicts rather than


Post 64 also is reviving an American Legion Auxiliary chapter, which comprises the spouses and children of post members.

“It used to be called the Ladies Auxiliary but now it’s for both men and women,” she said, noting she has already drafted her husband Steve.

Post 64’s visibility to some degree is hampered by the fact that, unlike many VFW and America Legion outfits, it has no building of its own and has adopted the Ahwatukee Recreation Center as the headquarters for its monthly meetings and many of its activities.

Many veterans organizations have a bar and restaurant in their buildings that become the equivalent of a neighborhood hangout, enhancing their visibility.

But Smull noted that the Denver post she helped lead had no bar in their building and “they’re doing just fine.”

To grow, she said, Post 64 has to give younger veterans reasons to consider joining – a challenge, she added, that many veterans organizations confront.

“We have a bigger challenge in Ahwatukee because if we don’t increase our membership in 10 years, this post won’t be very active at all,” Smull said. “I’m the new generation and I’m hopeful to bring in people that are like me, are younger.”

She noted that Post 64 lost nine members last year alone and already several more have passed away this year.

“We lost a lot of people,” she said, “and then there are others who just can’t do things anymore” because of their age.

She said she is focused on growing the post partly out of respect for her parents and partly because she likes embracing challenges.

“My parents are passed but they were very active,” she said. “They always did a lot for veterans. They went to the VA hospital and visited people. They just did a lot. So, I want to honor my father.”

To learn more about Post 64: americanlegionpost64.com

Sponsored Content

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.