The Texas Workforce Commission’s (TWC) Texas Veterans Leadership Program (TVLP), in conjunction with the American Legion – Department of Texas and Fort Hood, presented 10 Stetsons to a U.S. Army 1st Cavalry Division unit during a recent ceremony at the Central Texas military installation.
John McKinny, an Army veteran and former American Legion State Commander, presented the Stetsons directly to soldiers of the 3rd Brigade Engineer Battalion along with the unit’s commanders.
McKinny said the Stetsons were donated to the Battalion by the American Legion Travis Post 76 Honor Guard, as a way to give back to our service men and women.
“It’s refreshing to see the dedication of these soldiers. I’m excited about this new generation of veterans,” he said.
McKinny entered the U. S. Army in 1969 and served two years, one of which was in Vietnam. He was honorably discharged as a Specialist (E-5). After returning from military service, he was hired by the Texas Workforce Commission (then known as the Texas Employment Commission) as a Veterans Placement Specialist, before being promoted to Interviewer, Site Manager, and then serving as the local office Veterans Employment Representative for the Port Arthur Texas Employment Office. He went on to serve as the State Director of the Veterans’ Employment and Training Service (VETS) until his retirement.
McKinny said when he got out of the service, the American Legion was there for him, to help during his transition back to the civilian world.
“I had nothing when I got back, but with their help I was soon serving as a local veterans representative in Port Arthur, and was able to help fellow-veterans find work — more than 800 within one single month,” he said.
McKinny said while he knows the Army of today is very different that the one he served in, he said ceremonies like this help connect veterans through a strong esprit de corps.
“I have faith in our future. Today’s generation is tomorrow’s future,” he said.
The tradition of the Cavalry Hat (Stetson) began in the early days before the Vietnam War, and has continued to become the standard for all cavalry units in the Army.
The “Cav Hat” is not an issued item for soldiers, and is not covered in any of the uniform regulations. But the Stetsons are worn by the Troopers of the 1st Cavalry Division and many other cavalry units, for ceremonies and special cavalry events, according to the Division.
Hat cords are worn and represent the rank of the wearer. General officers wear solid gold cords, field and company grade officers wear black and gold hat cords, warrant officers wear black and silver hat cords and enlisted Troopers wear Cavalry yellow hat cords. Normally the branch insignia of the Cavalry, crossed sabers, are worn on the front along with the rank of the wearer.
During the ceremony at Fort Hood, the unit’s senior non-commissioned officer (NCO), 1st Sgt. Dailey, called his Troopers to formation and asked them to consider their lives after their time in the Army, and to seek out TWC services and to learn from the example that McKinny and many other veterans in public service have set.
“You never stop serving,” said Dailey to his troops. “If you plan to take advantage of the GI Bill to go to college, you have American Legion members like Mr. McKinny to thank for that. They introduced it in 1944. Veterans serving veterans.”
After the Stetsons were handed out by McKinny to selected members of the unit, he told the troops about the last time he stood in formation as a solider, in Vietnam.
“As we stood together, the enemy started shelling our position, and dropping ordinance right on top of us. That was the last time I stood within a formation like this. I hope you leave the service with good memories of serving together, and of participating in ceremonies like this,” he said.
In appreciation for his many years of service to veterans, Dailey and his Troopers presented McKinny with a military pin bearing the unit’s insignia.
“Wow! Just, wow. Thank you all,” said McKinny with gratitude to the soldiers.
Following the ceremony, the soldiers who received the Stetsons thanked McKinny personally, and posed for photos with him. Many of them said they were honored by the gift.
“They didn’t have to do any of this,” said one soldier. “But to know that they went out of their way to make us feel special, and to honor the traditions of the 1st Cav, that’s special.
“These Stetsons were handed down to us with pride. There’s a lot of honor in that,” said another soldier.
“Veterans service organizations, such as the American Legion, are critical to keeping the focus on veterans issues,” said TVLP Program Manager Jeff Singh. “This ceremony at Fort Hood was a wonderful opportunity to bring these organizations together to keep that bridge open — for relationship building, to preserve military heritage and for the continuing of service traditions into civilian life.”
TVLP is a program under TWC’s Texas Operation Welcome Home (TOWH), and assists veterans and transitioning service members as they resume civilian life in Texas. This program provides critical resource and referral services to assist these veterans in connecting with necessary employment and training services, as well as locating existing resources that can provide other ancillary services. Modeled after the Vietnam Veterans Leadership Program, TVLP is overseen by a state director, and 22 local Veterans Resource and Referral Specialists (VRRS).
For more information on military transition, skills training and career resources available just for veterans in Texas, visit TexasOperationWelcomeHome.com.
See More Photos from the Ceremony: