VFWs, Legions reach out to young veterans

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

NAPLES — Marian Merrill and Russ Littlefield paused on Nov. 11 to reflect on the reasons it is sometimes difficult to get the younger generation to join the local Legion or an area-based Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) organization. According to Russ Littlefield, a longtime member of the American Legion Post No. 155, the answer is the economy.

“You are not getting younger people to join because everything costs so much. Both people, the husband and wife, work full-time. Sometimes one person works during the day and the other at night because they cannot afford to have a babysitter,” Littlefield said.

“It is the economy right now. They have two car payments, a house payment, and their kids to raise up,” he said.

“I’ll say once the kids get into high school, they might have some free time,” Littlefield said.

For the VFW, the newest members would be the servicemen who were stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan during those armed conflicts. Littlefield explained that the requirements to join the VFW are set on the federal level. People qualify for VFW membership only if they were stationed where an officially-sanctioned war was being fought.

For VFW membership “you had to be in a combat zone,” Littlefield said, adding that congress determines what years a military personnel can join the VFW.

Comparatively, the American Legion includes anyone who has served in the military — regardless of whether the service years were during peace or wartime.

By contrast, the auxiliary members are comprised of the family members of any veteran.

“We all work toward the same causes — helping veterans,” Merrill said.

Merrill is the Auxiliary President at the American Legion Post No. 155, which serves the communities of Naples, Raymond and Casco.

Currently, there are 178 Auxiliary and 268 Legion members.

She said the topic of membership is a common one at statewide meetings.

“This is a problem with all service organizations. It comes up in conversation, and what I hear is, ‘It’s the money, and the time, and the change in our society,’ ” Merrill said.

“The community service gene is not as instilled in the group coming up,” she said.

“We have raised an indulgent society that is more concerned about what they are going to get out of it than they are interested in helping others,” she said, adding these were sentiments repeated by people from other Legions in the state.

Not only is membership important for assistance in community service projects, but it serves as a social network for veterans who have served.

Also, there is a dramatic push on the national level for the American Legion to bolster its membership.

According to an article on the American Legion website the long-term goal is to have 3.3 million by 2019 — a date coinciding with the Legion’s centennial.

During the 2012 AL meeting, the National Commander James E. Koutz said, “We’ve passed a lot of important resolutions during these meeting, but none of them will matter if we aren’t around to implement them.”

“If we don’t keep advancing membership, who will be there to keep veterans from falling through the cracks?” Koutz said during his closing remark at the convention.

Merrill said she has ideas for upping the membership numbers in her community.

“We have to come up with a plan to make it more attractive, and not so boring,” she said.

“Get them in and keep them busy. If they don’t have something interesting to do, we are going to lose their interest,” she continued.

“We have to get out into the community and get kids involved, too,” she said, adding the American Legion has a Junior Auxiliary that the children of military members can join.

Please follow and like us: