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Helmut Schmidt, Published July 19 2013

22-year-old takes charge of NDSU's American Legion Post 400

FARGO – Calie Craddock has taken charge.

The North Dakota State University senior is commander of the campus-based American Legion Post No. 400.

The post, organized last November by a small group of military veterans, is the only university campus Legion post in the state – and just the third in the nation, Craddock said.

The median age of post members is 25, she said.

“We really wanted to promote this concept of the younger generation veterans,” Craddock said. “We’ve really worked hard to (develop) legitimacy in the community. And we still have a whole lot of work to go, but it’s been positive thus far.”

At age 22, Craddock fits in the youth category. But like many young vets, she’s seen a lot of the world.

The well-spoken six-year North Dakota Army National Guard specialist has served in Kosovo and Kuwait, and the self-professed “lifer” just re-enlisted for another six years with her Wahpeton-based unit.

Post 400 is open to all with ties to NDSU – students, staff, alumni and faculty – who are in the Guard, Reserves or active-duty military or who have been honorably discharged, Craddock said.

Goals include helping vets – many who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan – take advantage of government benefits, giving them a place to share experiences, and harnessing their drive and skills to improve the campus and the communities they call home, Craddock said.

“Our big thing is community involvement and activism,” she said. “Veterans giving back is kind of our mantra.”

She said the post sponsored a successful benefit for a North Dakota National Guard soldier who is being treated for a brain tumor. There was a silent auction, supper and a raffle at Fargo’s American Legion Post 2.

This fall, Post 400 leaders want to educate the community about suicide among vets and the effects of traumatic brain injury,

“We’re really trying to focus on modern issues. Not that these issues are specific to us, but these are prevalent in our population,” Craddock said.

Post 400 also promotes education, because the more education a veteran has, the less likely they are to become homeless, Craddock said.

So far, Craddock and the other members of Post 400 have earned salutes.

Post 2 Commander Brad Aune said Post 400 is a great opportunity to get younger vets involved, and he’s impressed with the post’s young commander.

“She’s a great gal; very energetic. Definitely some great ideas on how to serve the community,” Aune said.

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., also praised Craddock.

Craddock got Heitkamp’s attention when she spoke out about how veterans were being hurt by late payments of benefits by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

“She’s incredibly articulate and a take-charge person and she’s going to get things done,” Heitkamp said.

Post 400 usually meets in NDSU’s Memorial Union, though there have been meetings at the Bison Turf and a member’s home, Craddock said.

She said the post’s goal is to have 75 members by this fall.

Veterans interested in joining Post 400, can email calie.craddock.2@ndsu.edu or go online to the group’s Facebook page, NDSU American Legion Post 400.

“We’re kind of creating that culture of camaraderie again,” Craddock said. “Getting these veterans back into a group and realizing that they’re not the only ones on this campus and helping them in the reintegration process. Helping them not feel alone.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583