American Legion Department of Texas Post 232 of Longview/Gregg County began its charter in 2010. At that time, it was one of the newer posts in the 3rd District of Texas, with just a small number of members. However, in 2012, Korean War Navy veteran Joe Ramirez became its new commander and the post began to bring in more members. After all, he recruited me over breakfast one day at a local IHOP.
Along with this, Ramirez, with the guidance of experienced retired Air Force civil engineer NCO Warren Gamel, who is now post sgt.-at-arms, began a project called "Operation Ramp Build."
This program began with just a few post members, and grew into a consistent squad of regular "ramp builders," some are from local service clubs such as AMBUCS; we deeply appreciate their assistance.
"Operation Ramp Build" provides disabled veterans who are regular wheelchair and/or "scooter" bound, as well as their family members, if any, who fall into the same category with either an initial ramp or a replacement of an old one so that they can have better mobility and safely move about to the mailbox to get the newspaper, go to the store, etc. The ramps also benefit ambulance and rescue crews who might need quick access to a patient at the residence in case of a medical emergency.
We have a territory of operation on this project of a 45-mile radius in the East Texas area, and each ramp build averages to about 40 feet of construction; to date, Post 232 has constructed over 500 feet of ramp. These are built with safety in mind first, and we have a couple of individuals who monitor the safety conditions of construction team members, making sure that each wears eye and hand protection as well as hearing protection when warranted. In the warmer months they also ensure that the ramp construction members are well hydrated and that needed breaks are taken. First aid supplies and equipment are readily available by trained ramp construction personnel.
The ramps are built under ADA standards, with each one having the proper foundation, core construction and handrails, and we require a "Release of Liability" form (disclaimer) to be signed as an agreement by the recipients of the ramps prior to construction.
Upon conclusion of each ramp build, the integrity of the ramp construction is tested, and a final inspection by the team is conducted, making sure there are no protruding wood screws or splinters, etc. After a few weeks, a post member contacts the ramp recipient to ensure that there is complete "customer satisfaction."
The project also includes some, but limited, commercial recipients. Recently, we replaced a very old and outdated ramp at the Senior Adult Center in Gilmer, Texas, the meeting place of Texas Post 320 (our "brother" post). Post 320 Commander Mike Trull and 3rd District Commander Jerry Holsworth expressed their appreciation, and gave a big smile of approval upon its completion. The building is a historic structure dating back to 1914. We are not sure how old the ramp that we replaced was, but we just knew that it definitely needed to be replaced.
A local Lowe's building and home supply store sells us the building materials, and accommodates us in every way they can for these projects. All that we ask from the recipients of the ramps is a donation to help cover the cost of the supplies, which averages to be about $200 for each ramp build. Also, local businesses, service clubs and individuals have contributed to generously to "Operation Ramp Build" and to them we will be forever grateful.
At the time I came on board The American Legion, I was working a regular police job and was unable to assist on every ramp build, but I helped with as many as I could. I have since retired and was elected vice commander in 2013 and then commander in 2014. Since then I have learned so much about wheelchair ramp building from these dedicated post members. "Operation Ramp Build" is just another way the Legion is able to serve fellow veterans and the citizens of the community, and it is indeed our pleasure.