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‘A More Powerful Voice’
Convention attendees voice opinions about the VFW’s future
September 24, 2018
The VFW’s Publications staff quizzed VFW members attending the organization’s 119th National Convention in July in Kansas City, Mo.
Members offered their thoughts on specific topics, such as when the VFW might see its first female national commander or what they would like to see changed about the annual convention.
Here’s a look at what some of them had to say.
Carlo Davis, 44
Post 9191, Killeen, Texas
Davis served in Iraq (2003 and 2007), Afghanistan (2011) and later in Kuwait (2018), earning his VFW eligibility.
Comradeship is what Davis likes most about being a VFW member. “Being able to mingle, the common bond. [There’s a] generational gap, but VFW closes the distance,” he said.
VFW’s most important function, Davis said, is advocating on behalf of veterans – especially for benefits.
In 10 years, Davis said VFW will still be the “No. 1 organization championing for veterans rights and benefits.” He added that in three to five years, VFW should see its first female national commander.
Angela Hudson Davis, 53
Post 10321, Hamden, Conn.
Davis earned her eligibility through Army service in the 1991 Persian Gulf War. She said the convention is a great time to be with “like-minded” veterans.
“The best thing about being a VFW member is having a voice and being able to make change,” Davis said. “It is important that we point out the areas that need improvement in our communities, [as well as] create better cohesion among members and the organization.”
Davis said the most important thing VFW does is provide help to veterans recently discharged from the military. She believes VFW will be more active in 10 years’ time, but that the organization overall needs to do better with recruiting and being active in the community.
Davis said the first female national commander-in-chief should be elected “right now.” But, she feels the first woman will be elected in the next five years. Women need to be involved in VFW, Davis said, because female veterans are “not well represented.”
Timothy Brown, 58
Post 1503, Dale City, Va.
The Desert Storm vet said it’s important to attend the national convention to show the legislative strength of the organization. Brown said he wouldn’t change anything about convention.
“I really don’t think this could be any better,” said Brown, who brought with him his granddaughter, Vada.
As his Post’s quartermaster, Brown said VFW’s most important function is educational assistance and helping vets find jobs.
He is optimistic about the future of VFW: “I see us growing and with a louder voice,” he said. “Within 10 years, we will have a female national commander. I see it coming.”
Christine Bassett, 55
Post 3236, Ludlow, Mass.
Bassett earned her eligibility in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003. She feels it’s important to attend convention for the camaraderie. “You’re able to get together and meet people from other states [and find out] things you might not learn at the lower level,” she said.
Bassett said adding younger, more family-oriented activities to convention would be a welcome change.
She said helping her fellow comrades and families is what she most likes about being a VFW member. Helping provide all benefits between VA medical, GI bill and transitioning from service is what VFW’s most important role is.
Bassett said a female national commander likely will be elected within 10 years.
Ken Ramirez, 36
Post 1123, Vallejo, Ken Ramirez, 36
Ramirez, an Iraq and Afghanistan War vet, served in the Navy from 2000-2010.
“It’s important for my generation to be represented here,” said Ramirez, noting it was his first time to convention.
The camaraderie is one of the things he most likes about VFW. Ramirez said ensuring proper representation for all veterans is the most important function of the organization. In 10 years, he sees VFW with a “more powerful voice.”
When asked when the VFW might elect its first female national commander, Ramirez answered: “Hopefully ASAP.” Calif.
Floyd Stewart, 72
Post 4709, Conroe, Texas
Stewart served in Vietnam in 1965, where he earned his VFW eligibility.
He most enjoys the camaraderie the organization offers and believes VFW’s most important function is helping other veterans.
Stewart thinks a woman will become national commander in three years.
Tiffany Green-Porter, 37
Post 7842, Linesville, Pa.
Green-Porter served with the Army in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The single mother found herself struggling to make ends meet during the holidays. VFW stepped in and helped her financially.
“When I came home, I couldn’t get a job,” she said. “It was the VFW that gave me a $250 check so we were able to have a Christmas.”
Once she got back on her feet, she joined the VFW. She said being around other veterans helps her feel she’s not alone.
She said her Post is very family-friendly. “Six times a year, we have family events,” she said. “The kids love it. I love my Post.”
Cody Mangold, 34
VFW Post 791, Yankton, S.D.
Mangold served in Iraq in 2007-08 with the Army National Guard.
“My hometown bought my membership for the first year,” he said. “One of the guys I deployed with, his dad said, ‘Why don’t you come to VFW?’ My friend said, ‘Come with me.’”
Mangold said they made him feel welcome. When he got out of the Guard, he said it was a really hard adjustment. “With VFW, there’s a camaraderie,” he said. “That’s what you have in the military. I encourage fellow younger veterans to join VFW.”
Brian Wiener, 47
Post 8098, Egg Harbor Township, N.J.
Wiener earned his VFW eligibility for his service in Bosnia in 1995. He said this was his second national convention and that there is a lot to learn by attending VFW events.
“There are so many resources to use in this organization that people aren’t familiar with or don’t use,” Wiener said.
He added that the convention would be improved by having small group sessions with other members from around the world. Having groups of veterans from different eras, as well as sessions with members who hold certain positions at all levels within the organization, would help members achieve “common goals” in their local communities and within the organization. The most important functions of VFW, according to Wiener, are “supporting medical endeavors” and legislation for veterans. Because of this, Wiener said VFW will be “stronger, more powerful” in the next 10 years, even if it is a smaller combat veterans organization.
Wiener also anticipates VFW’s first woman commander-in-chief will be elected in the next decade. “But, it should be next year,” he added.
Trisha Leslie, 27
Post 4556, Pocahontas, Ark.
Leslie served in Afghanistan before becoming a VFW member. Prior to that, she had been a member of the American Legion. She said that while her Post is made up of mostly older members, she still was made to feel welcome.
“It gives me something to look forward to, knowing that there’s other people who understand the difficult situation we go through that civilians don’t quite understand,” she said. “We’re here for veterans. If we don’t step in to do it, it’s not going to get carried on from generation to generation.”
Willie Keller Jr., 43
Post 9191, Killeen, Texas
Keller earned his eligibility first in Haiti (1995). He later served in Iraq (2003) and Afghanistan (2005 and 2008).
He said it’s important for VFW members to attend national convention so that they don’t get lost “in the complacency” of local surroundings. He thought the convention could be improved by offering a variety of concerts. He noted that in 2017 in New Orleans, there were more music selections beyond country.
Keller said he most likes the sense of brotherhood VFW offers. He said he’s had the opportunity to reconnect with people he hadn’t seen since basic training. He added that if VFW doesn’t evolve and pull in more youth, the organization will be viewed as “an old man’s organization.”
Keller hopes to see a woman elected national commander in six years.
Jeffrey Byrd, 41
Post 2330, Searcy, Ark.
Byrd served 20 years in the Air Force, including time in Iraq and Afghanistan. His uncle bought him a VFW life membership. His grandfather also was a member.
“I was welcomed more so than the average new member,” Byrd said. “We’re the largest veterans’ advocacy organization and a lot of the new members just want to belong to something bigger than themselves.”
Byrd said he credits VFW with nearly every benefit veterans receive.
Juan DeSantiago, 60
Post 8925, Austin, Texas
DeSantiago earned his eligibility while serving in the Navy as a machinist’s mate off the coast of Vietnam in 1975. He said that the best thing about being a VFW member is the “camaraderie” he has with all the members.
“I get to meet so many different people and veterans with different backgrounds,” DeSantiago said.
To DeSantiago, VFW’s most important function is the scholarship opportunities provided to children and veterans. He hopes VFW will have a “bigger” membership base and “more participation” in the next decade. He wants people and veterans not to perceive VFW as “just a place to go drink at a bar.”
When asked when the first female commander-in-chief will be elected, DeSantiago said, “Hopefully soon. Three years, maybe.”
Mary Smith, 35
Post 6830, Walhalla, S.C.
Smith earned her eligibility in Bosnia while serving in the Air Force and later served in Iraq.
Smith’s grandfather is a WWII veteran, and she grew up going to VFW Posts. When she came home from overseas, she missed the camaraderie.
“I thought, ‘I could go to the VFW,’” she said. “At first glance, the assumption was I must be Auxiliary. After a conversation, they discovered I was an eligible veteran and they signed me up on the spot.”
Smith said everyone should join VFW, “even if you’re not ready to be elected to office.”
Justin Blodgett, 37
VFW Post 3442 Custer, S.D.
Blodgett did four tours in Afghanistan with the Army’s 10th Mountain Division. He joined VFW two years ago.
“My family was involved with the Auxiliary because of my service,” he said. “I joined right off the bat. It’s helping me get into a normal life.”
Blodgett got divorced and his house burned down, so he wasn’t too involved at the Post at first.
“In meetings, I just sat back and watched,” he said. “It’s on a Post-by-Post basis, but if it’s a good Post, it does help you get integrated back into civilian life.”