Baldwin named American Legion Post 49’s first female commander

Published 1:01 pm Thursday, June 6, 2024

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By Buzz Trexler

Star Correspondent

It was a night of camaraderie, ritual, and history Tuesday at Watauga Post 49 of The American Legion in Elizabethton when Kelly Greene Sr. handed over post command to Paulette Baldwin, who became the first female commander in the post’s 105-year history.

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“I am deeply honored to be given this opportunity to be appointed as the commander of Watauga Post 49,” Baldwin said after she and other officers were sworn in during a dinner meeting Tuesday night. “I have so many ideas and with the help of our members I hope that we can make as many as possible all come true.”

Baldwin enlisted in the Navy in 1974 and attended boot camp at the Recruit Training Command, Orlando, Fla. She attended “A school” for computer training at Naval Base San Diego. Upon graduating, she was assigned to Dam Neck (Va.) Naval Base where she served in the data processing department. Later, she was assigned to the Naval Intelligence Processing Training Facility at Naval Air Station Key West (Fla.).

“I was an instructor tasked with training data systems techs preparing to go on board our ships and repair the computer systems,” Baldwin said in an email of her time at Key West. “The systems at this command were identical to what these sailors would be confronted with.”

Baldwin said she served at Key West for about two years before being assigned to Fleet Intelligence Center Europe and Atlantic just outside of Norfolk Naval Base. “I was placed in a supervisor role and our task was compiling data for our ships,” she said. “I acquired a specific security clearance for the job I was assigned and was in correlation with The Pentagon.

“I am very proud of my time in the Navy,” Baldwin said.

The post currently has 179 members and one of Baldwin’s goals is to reach 225 by May 1, 2025. The new commander could be aided by a bill signed on July 30, 2019, by then-President Donald Trump that allows anyone who has served one day on active duty and has an honorable discharge to be a member of the American Legion. Before then, membership was only granted to those who had served in the military during a period when the United States was in an active conflict. This means that active duty, reserve component, and National Guard personnel currently serving are also eligible.

Another goal Baldwin hopes to achieve is the restoration of the post’s auxiliary charter by Jan. 1, 2025. The auxiliary lost its charter when its membership fell below five during the 2020-2021 COVID-19 pandemic.

Baldwin assumed the leadership role from Greene, who has led the post for five years. Despite the challenges presented by the pandemic, a pre-meeting release notes that during Greene’s tenure Post 49 was one of only two posts to achieve 100 percent membership in District 1, which is comprised of 15 posts. During that time, the post established a Legion Riders Chapter. Legion Riders are members of the American Legion family – veterans, auxiliaries, and Sons of the American Legion – who ride motorcycles and help raise college scholarship funds for veterans and their families.

Francis “Lee” Frakes, an Army veteran who served in field artillery, accepted the role as the first vice commander. Lee, a native of California, has served in the Army National Guard in Louisiana, Texas, California, and Arkansas. He has been a Tennessee resident since 2001 with his wife, Debi, and daughter, Tori. Lee is in his 20th year at East Tennessee State University where he serves as a systems administrator.

Army veteran Irene Batchelder returns as the second vice commander, and said, “I look forward to working with Commander Baldwin and assisting the veterans in our community.” She will assist Baldwin with the periodic “Buddy Checks,” a Legion program conducted during the March birthday of the Legion and usually during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays to ensure veterans and their families are doing well.

Army veterans Antonio “Tony” Banchs and John Bennett will continue into the new term as adjutant and finance officer, respectively.

The American Legion National Headquarters granted the Elizabethton Post its charter in 1919. C.R. Hathaway, a World War I veteran, commanded Post 49 from 1919-1920. The post’s numerical designation means that it was the 49th post chartered in the Department of Tennessee. 

Tennessee American Legion

Watauga Post 49

The Post: 111 South Watauga Ave., Elizabethton

When: The post’s next dinner meeting is 6 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 6, and the first Tuesday of the month thereafter.

Who Can Join? Anyone who has served one day on active duty and has an honorable discharge is eligible to be a member of the American Legion, including U.S. Armed Forces active duty, Reserve, and National Guard members.