Craig VFW, American Legion struggle to recruit young vets
Seek new members with Saturday morning coffee, doughnuts
January 1, 2017
Craig — Fifty three-year-old veteran Gerald Martinez knows what it's like to get lost in the bottle, but he's sober now and turns to other veterans to find the support he needs. As one of the youngest active members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4265 in Craig, he's trying to connect with other younger veterans to encourage them to join.
The VFW and the American Legion — now housed under one roof in the old VFW building, re-dubbed Veteran's Hall — are suffering from a lack of young and new recruits. To begin tackling this problem, they'll be opening their doors to all veterans the second Saturday of every month for free coffee and doughnuts starting in January.
"Both the American Legion and the VFW have been having a dwindling membership," said VFW Commander Johnny Garcia. "We need to work to get younger people in there to take over the VFW. Right now, the standing in the VFW is mostly Vietnam veterans."
Garcia hopes the low-key environment will give vets a chance to get acquainted with both organizations, and hopefully create some opportunity for dialogue between the generations.
"The younger kids can socialize and get to know us, and (we can) get to know them, their likes and dislikes, and what it's going to take to get the club up and running again," Garcia said.
The VFW in Craig isn't the only post struggling to bridge the generation gap. The organization has faced a similar challenge statewide and nationally, but some posts are thinking progressively about how to attract younger members, said VFW State Quartermaster Bruce Dolan.
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"The younger members have different interests than us older guys do," he said. "They want to do stuff and get out in community and participate in things."
Perhaps an even bigger challenge is building mutual respect and understanding between the generations, especially with older vets who have been members for 40 or 50 years and aren't keen on changing their ways.
"A lot of the older members just don't like the way younger people do things, they just don't know how to communicate with them," Dolan said.
But in Martinez's eyes, veterans' organizations play a critical role for him and his fellow vets, regardless of age, and he worries that younger vets are not getting the camaraderie and support they need.
"We've got each other to talk to, kind of like a support group. A lot of vets come back and have nobody that can understand what they've been through," Martinez said. "One of the vets in particular I'm kind of concerned about, he's hitting the bottle pretty hard… I'd like to catch these guys before they turn to that."
The hall already houses a pool table, but 63-year-old American Legion member Mike Lausin hopes they can add video games to attract younger recruits. Ultimately, Martinez hopes the intergenerational efforts cut both ways.
"You gotta listen to these older guys, they've been around a while, they know what they're talking about," he said. "But they're not gonna be around forever. Somebody's gotta carry the torch."
Veterans Hall will host the first coffee and doughnut social 8 a.m. Jan. 14 at 419 E. Victory Way in Craig. All veterans are invited to drop in.