- Associated Press - Monday, May 30, 2016

HOLSTEIN, Iowa (AP) - Veterans of service in Iraq and Afghanistan are being asked to serve in a different way by joining veterans groups in their Iowa communities, and the groups have had varying degrees of success in attracting them.

Membership in such groups as the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars is shrinking as World War II and Korean War veterans age and die, the Sioux City Journal reported (https://bit.ly/1TQYFHp ). That leaves the groups with fewer members to carry on basic functions such as providing color guards at veterans’ funerals.

The groups see an opportunity to reverse that by recruiting some of the thousands of younger veterans returning home from military service in Iraq and Afghanistan, though it’s a challenge.

“Membership is an ongoing thing, day to day,” said Travis Holden, state commander of the Iowa VFW in Des Moines. “We go in with the understanding they have jobs and they have younger families. The first question they ask is how much time is it going to take?”

Asking a service member to help present the colors at a football game or help work bingo night raises the chances they’ll join.

“They know they’re welcome,” said Burdette Conover, a Vietnam War veteran and the finance officer for Post 225 in Holstein.

In the American Legion’s northwest Iowa district, 18 of 89 posts have met their 2016 membership goals ahead of the June 30 deadline. That means either increasing their membership or remaining with current numbers.

Of Post 225’s membership of 130 in Holstein, nearly a third served in what’s termed the Persian Gulf era of the early 1990s. An influx of members in their 40s and even some in their 20s has resulted in increased membership over the past five years.

“I think people have the stigma that it’s a bunch of old guys, but it’s not,” said Jamee Dittmer, the post adjutant, a younger veteran and member of Post 225. “I’ve gained new friends, granted they’re 60 years older. They don’t really care about my age. I’m just one of the guys.”

Adjutant Tony Henderson, 41, served as a Marine from 1991 to 1998 in the first Gulf War, Somalia and Bosnia. Now a Legion member in Holstein, he highlighted the communication between the younger members and older veterans.

“They’re not the same era of veterans that I was, but you have the same connections,” he said of the older members. “I couldn’t have been more comfortable coming in.”


Information from: Sioux City Journal, https://www.siouxcityjournal.com

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