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Plum American Legion elects first female commander

| Wednesday, June 26, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Nancy Kunkel had intentions of pursuing a career in teaching.

Kunkel, 54, of Plum changed her plans, though, when she saw the job market for teachers in the early 1980s was not promising.

Kunkel, a Penn Hills native, decided on an alternative career and joined the Air Force.

“I thought everyone should join the military,” said Kunkel who recently was elected to a one-year term as the first female commander of Plum American Legion Post 980 on Saltsburg Road. “It is a good thing to teach discipline.”

Kunkel succeeds Mike Shields, who was commander for the past few years.

The Plum American Legion received its charter in 1979.

Kunkel spent nearly 27 years in the Air Force — from 1982 to 2009, and her career took her a variety of places. Kunkel was stationed in Florida five times. She also had two stints in England and was stationed in Okinawa, Japan, as well as South Carolina, Texas, Georgia, Illinois and Mississippi.

Her positions included aircraft maintenance officer commander, squadron commander, deputy maintenance group commander and maintenance group commander. Kunkel retired in 2009 as a colonel.

Kunkel returned to Pennsylvania in 2009 and settled in Plum, where she joined the American Legion post on Saltsburg Road.

“I am a happy retiree,” Kunkel said.

For the past year, she has devoted her time to the legion in the position of service officer.

“I help take care of the veterans,” Kunkel said.

Some of the duties Kunkel performs include helping veterans obtain medical benefits and dropping off donated items, such as clothing, books and movies, at organizations that help veterans.

Kunkel initially hadn't planned to seek the commander position with the legion but stepped up after some members encouraged her to seek it.

“She's (Kunkel) got quite a resume from the service,” said Plum's Chuck Sackett, 79, a member of the legion's board of directors and a Kunkel supporter.

Kunkel said the Plum legion has about 1,000 “regular” members or veterans and more than 1,000 social members who are not veterans.

Both regular and social members each pay $25 in annual dues.

Kunkel plans to encourage more involvement from social members in legion business.

“(Social members) put a lot of money (into the legion), and their voices are not heard,” Kunkel said. “I would like to get them more involved. With their efforts, we could make our club better.”

Kunkel also wants to encourage younger veterans — those who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan — to join the legion.

“I want to let them know they are welcome,” Kunkel said.

On the national scene, Kunkel said, she is pleased with the Pentagon's decision earlier this year to lift the ban on women in combat.

Kunkel said military officials must back up the decision with proper preparation for women to be on the front lines.

“You can't lessen the training if you put females out there,” Kunkel said.

In her new position, Kunkel also plans to look at ways to get more members to participate in the monthly business meetings.

“Eighteen to 30 members (at a meeting) isn't a good representation of the club,” Kunkel said.

And Kunkel wants the legion to be run more like a business. She said she is up to the challenge of the position.

“I consider this to be an honor and a privilege to be voted in by the membership of the club,” Kunkel said. “I take this very seriously, and I plan on doing the best job possible. I hope at the end of this year I make all those people proud.”

Karen Zapf is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8753, or kzapf@tribweb.com.

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