Why would anyone join the Veterans of Foreign War? Well, not just anyone can. Not even just any Veteran can. A prospective member must have served honorably in a combat zone that earned them one of several qualifying campaign medals. The most recent are: the Iraq Campaign Medal, the Afghanistan Campaign Medal, and the Global War On Terror Expeditionary Medal. (Service in Kosovo, Korea, Somalia, and Bosnia are also qualifying service, though I don't know the medal names.)
Those that earned the National Defense Service Medal, but not a medal qualifying them for membership at the VFW are qualified for the American Legion. Both organizations are honorable and a place to gather with fellow Veterans, Brothers, like those we served with in the Military. Both have auxiliaries for family members of Veterans. The Legion led the way with Sons of the Legion and the VFW recently added the Men's Auxiliary. Both have a Ladies Auxiliary, which does a lot of the heavy lifting in Troop Support and general organizing.
The companionship of fellow Warriors is but one facet of the VFW, albeit an important one. Thor, a Post Quartermaster, and the WOTN Editor, a life member, have set about to give some of the reasons why a Combat Veteran would want to join, and why Our Posts are so important to Veterans, Troops, and Our Communities. Each Post is unique, with its own personality, as rich and storied as the buildings themselves. To Find a Post near you or where you are going. (Most Posts don't have a website.)
Nashville has two posts (1291 & 1970), one structure is younger than the War On Terror and the other older than the hills. Both have been at their current locations for many decades. Each has hundreds of members, but the newer building attracts more younger Veterans while the other has a more cozy atmosphere. Technically, there's a 3rd Post in Nashville which doesn't have a building or location. During the recent deployment of the Tennessee National Guard, the Tennessee VFW's adopted units of the Guard. I'll let Thor take it from here:
National Military Services (VFW Support)
The VFW provides numerous services to military service members and their families.
The three main efforts of the VFW Military Services department are:
the Military Assistance Program (MAP), Operation Uplink, and Unmet Needs.
These are programs that Officers and NCO's in the Military need to know about. In times of need, they can help young Soldiers get by. Captains and Sergeants Major should consider the potential for welcoming home their Troops with the Veterans that likely taught them as Privates.
Each program has a focus of support:
MAP has helped fund Farewell and Welcome Home gatherings for military units worldwide.
Operation Uplink provides free, pre-paid phone cards to service members.
Unmet Needs can give a one-time grant up to $2,500 for qualifying service members and their families experiencing financial hardship.
On June 14, 1777, the Marine Committee of the Continental Congress adopted a resolution that gave birth to our national flag. The resolution read:
"Resolved that the flag of the United States be made of 13 stripes, alternate red and white, that the union be 13 stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation."
Flags and flag education are important elements of the VFW's Citizenship Education program. In fact, flags are the most commonly requested items from the VFW's Emblem and Supply Department, which sells more than 250,000 flags each year.
The VFW publishes a flag booklet, "Ten Short Flag Stories," which you can request by sending a self-addressed stamped envelope to the Citizenship Education Department, Veterans of Foreign Wars, 406 West 34th Street, Kansas City, Missouri, 64111. Quantities can be purchased through VFW Emblem and Supply
Fostering patriotism and honoring America's veterans, whether it is Independence Day or Veterans Day, is part of the VFW's philosophical core. Public commemorations hosted by VFW Posts worldwide cultivate an appreciation of both the responsibilities and benefits of being an American.
The VFW has a rich tradition associated with community service, working closely with other national organizations such as Boy Scouts of America, America Supports You and America's Promise-The Alliance for Youth.
Constructive community service is a founding VFW tenet with volunteerism benefiting education, the environment, health sciences and civic projects. The VFW's citizenship education program is designed to stimulate an interest in America's history, its traditions and institutions, as well as promote patriotism. The VFW also partners with the National Rifle Association, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, International Association of Firefighters and the Salvation Army.
There are numerous projects and services that VFW Posts and its Auxiliaries offer to promote citizenship in the local community and educational facilities. Learn about flag facts and the history behind national patriotic holidays such as Loyalty Day, Independence Day and Memorial Day. Find out how today's teachers are promoting citizenship education in the classrooms.
VFW Scholarship Programs
Every year, hundreds of thousands of students participate in the Voice of Democracy Scholarship Competition and the Patriot's Pen Essay Contest, garnering more than $3.4 million in scholarships and incentives.
In addition, the VFW honors an outstanding scout through the VFW Scout of the Year Scholarship program. Besides the VFW's outstanding scholarship programs, Posts and Auxiliaries across the nation work with youth in scouting, sports, ROTC and military cadet programs. By providing leaders, funding, sponsorships and other resources, the VFW and its Auxiliaries encourage millions of America's young adults to higher ideals and greater personal achievement.
Among all the flowers that evoke the memories and emotions of war is the red poppy, which became associated with war after the publication of a poem written by Col. John McCrae of Canada. The poem, "In Flander's Field," describes blowing red fields among the battleground of the fallen. For more than 75 years, the VFW's Buddy Poppy program has raised millions of dollars in support of veterans' welfare and the well being of their dependents.
The VFW conducted its first poppy distribution before Memorial Day in 1922, becoming the first veterans' organization to organize a nationwide distribution. The poppy soon was adopted as the official memorial flower of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States.
It was during the 1923 encampment that the VFW decided that VFW Buddy Poppies be assembled by disabled and needy veterans who would be paid for their work to provide them with some form of financial assistance. The plan was formally adopted during the VFW's 1923 encampment. The next year, disabled veterans at the Buddy Poppy factory in Pittsburgh assembled VFW Buddy Poppies. The designation "Buddy Poppy" was adopted at that time.
In February 1924, the VFW registered the name "Buddy Poppy" with the U.S. Patent Office. A certificate was issued on May 20, 1924, granting the VFW all trademark rights in the name of Buddy under the classification of artificial flowers. The VFW has made that trademark a guarantee that all poppies bearing that name and the VFW label are genuine products of the work of disabled and needy veterans. No other organization, firm or individual can legally use the name "Buddy" Poppy.
Today, VFW Buddy Poppies are still assembled by disabled and needy veterans in VA Hospitals.
The minimal assessment (cost of Buddy Poppies) to VFW units provides compensation to the veterans who assemble the poppies, provides financial assistance in maintaining state and national veterans' rehabilitation and service programs and partially supports the VFW National Home for orphans and widows of our nation's veterans.
The VFW National Home for Children serves as a living memorial to America’s veterans by helping our nation’s veteran and military families.
Since its founding in 1925, the VFW National Home for Children has grown from an old frame farm house to a sprawling campus with playgrounds, park areas, and multiple buildings, including single-family homes, a community center and gymnasium, child care center, guest lodge, chapel and administrative offices.
The National Home’s services have also evolved to meet the changing needs of America’s military and veterans’ families. Through our Helpline and our on-campus programs, we are able to help families and children through times of crisis, both here on our beautiful campus and in their own communities nationwide. Read on to learn more about our services and find out how you can help us continue our mission.
Above and beyond that, MY Post does these things:
We go to the nearest VA and help the vets there through holding bingo right at the Bonham VA. We donate money to various churches, the Boys & Girls club, the Boy Scouts, the Civil Air Patrol, the Cub Scouts, and The Lions Club. We donated, at the request of our schools, United States flags for each of their classrooms.
We hold fundraisers for various charities, most recently the “Tools for Schools” Motorcycle Ride and fundraiser. We participate in and organize parades. We participate in and organize Memorial Day & Veteran's Day ceremonies. We've donated money to the Marine Corps League to assist with their Toys for Tots campaign.
We’ve donated almost $2000 to the new Eisenhower Memorial being built in Denison, TX. We collect worn and tattered flags of the United States and dispose of them with ceremony.
We have a Veterans Relief Fund which enables us to help our veterans in times of need. Our Ladies Auxiliary holds Bingo on Friday Nights & veterans from the Bonham VA come to our post. The Ladies Aux feeds them along with playing bingo, where they usually win some money. I DO know that it is much appreciated. Our canteen (the bar) loses money every month, as does many other Posts' canteens. It’s a “benefit” for our members and their guests. It’s also a place to hang out and enjoy some camaraderie. We’re a small Post and only have a handful of active members. And yet, we seem to be able to contribute a lot to the community.
To those that are calling for "burning their membership cards" and abandoning the VFW; do you really want to see all of the good that the VFW accomplishes go away? Are YOU willing to sacrifice that good just because of a disagreement that will ultimately be fixed?
As for me, the WOTN Editor, the most important thing the VFW offers is that companionship with fellow Veterans. There is something that those who have not served cannot understand and yet is immediately recognized by fellow Veterans. It is not just a matter of telling war stories over beer, though I've heard a few several times, war stories rarely come up. It is also knowing that whatever bureacratic challenges that face me at the VA (which I still haven't been to), there is someone at the Post that has faced them, and knows the answer to wading through it.
A few years back, after returning from Afghanistan, I found myself riding the backroads on my Harley. It was a day of reflection and I alternated between a desire to be alone and to be amongst others. It was Memorial Day and I made several stops, each one equally unsatisfying, until I ended up at a VFW Post, where no words were needed. The conversations were healing though warm and welcoming. And similiar to the rubber band that takes Paratroopers back to Bragg, so too does the VFW bring Veterans back to their home, the VFW Post, where their family has gathered, chastising for having been away so long, and welcoming, even if just passing through on long travels far from home.
Each Post has its personality and each Post has programs in its community as well as within Troop Support. It was a Nashville Post that worked so hard to get the Alvin C. York Fisher House in Middle Tennessee funded, along with the local chairman of the effort, a member of another Post and of the Marine Corps League.
As I looked at the VFW site today, I noted there were 1.54 Million members, of which 1/6th were new members, 253,419 who joined between 2007-2009. Over half of those new members were under 41. The membership drive this year has reached 80% of last years total members. Over half of those new members were Army Veterans. On 13 October 2010, the VFW launches its new website and hopefully that will be an improved version.
Looking closer, I noted several posts with double digit memberships, some in the teens, which means that they are operating close to the borderline where their charter may be pulled. I've wondered what happens to the property of those posts when they lose their charter, but I do know what happens to those members when their charter is lost. They have to find a new post, where they would meet other Veterans, if only they were able to go. At the age of so many of this Nation's Veterans, so many members of the VFW, traveling 30 or 40 miles is no longer an option. They've held the door open as long as they could. They've fought the battle at home honorably after fighting on the field of battle so long ago.