American Legion Post 77 Commander Zeste Debro was elected this year as the first African American commander in the 83-year history of the local post. The Legion looks to increase membership with a focus on younger veterans who have served during recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
CONYERS -- American Legion Post 77 Commander Zeste Debro believes service doesn't end when the uniform is hung up for good. It's a sense of spirit he hopes people will see from the local Legion post with service to the community and outreach to returning service men and women.
Elected as the first African-American commander in the 83-year history of American Legion Post 77 in Conyers, Zeste Debro downplays that fact with advice from an old sergeant major he served with, fellow Post 77 member Simon Ramos.
"He said that you really only need to worry about two colors -- light green and dark green," Debro explained. "It's an old Army saying relating to the camouflage uniforms. Light green and dark green were the only two colors used."
The advice seems even more appropriate now as the Legion looks for new members as the current membership ages. Debro explained three-fourths of the Post 77 members are over 65 years old, and the next generation of veterans is needed to keep the Post going.
Debro said the job is tougher with soldiers coming off duty from Iraq and Afghanistan.
"It's getting to be a lot like Vietnam where a lot of people coming home are bitter and just don't want anything to do with a veteran's organization," he said, "but we still have to reach out to them."
He said the Legion does offer a lot for discharged service men and women, and recalls how it helped him after 21 years in the Army.
"It's hard coming back to readjust, I know that. I went through Desert Storm, Panama and Grenada," he said. "But you need to be around people of your same kind; they are the ones who can talk to you. Most civilians do not know what we go through."
The Legion is also becoming more active in the community. Debro said it's part of the National American Legion's effort to serve.
The Legion will hold its annual Emergency Preparedness program from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday with first responders and public safety officers providing demonstrations and information. A job fair and Halloween safety programs are planned for October with other programs held throughout the year.
Along with its annual Veterans Day and Memorial Day programs, the Legion's Honor Guard provides graveside services for veterans and participates in community events, such as last week's South Rockdale Community Park dedication.
Debro said the goal of the Legion is to focus on family and that extends to community families of active duty military personnel and veterans.
Debro joined Post 77 in 2005 after stints with other Legion Posts in New York and Tennessee. He became active in the Honor Guard and worked his way up to sargeant-at-arms and Post adjutant before his election as commander in May.
He is also serving his second year as detachment junior vice chairman for the Legion's statewide organization.
Debro said he joined the Legion not "just to pay $25 a year and get a membership card." He hopes the Legion will become a shining light of service for Rockdale County.
"The first part of our preamble is 'God and Country,'" he said. "You never really stop serving."