When one walks into Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2702, it is quickly evident that this is not your grandpa’s VFW.
Children scamper by, playing in the activity room. Veterans from young to young at heart joke and commiserate. A large flat screen TV anchors the dining area. It was almost no one’s VFW as the post – at one time, the largest in the country according to its members – had a “for sale” sign up for the last few years. But about a year ago, a group of younger veterans decided to join and shape the post for today’s veteran, while still honoring its past. Down went the sale sign.
“We are working hard change the VFW’s old narrative of dark, smoky bars and to reinsert ourselves in the forefront of service to North Alabama, its veterans and the community.” Jacob Hicks, post adjutant, said.
Who is eligible to join the VFW? The requirements are more stringent than some veteran organizations. Per Post 2702, a prospective member must have received a campaign medal for overseas service, have served 30 consecutive or 60 non-consecutive days in Korea or have ever received hostile fire or imminent danger pay. Post 2702 annual membership dues are $35.00 per year.
Post 2702 is located off Memorial Parkway, with a sprawling yard and multi-room facility. Its abundance of space makes it an ideal meeting spot and the members want it to be known that they are open to supporting other veteran organizations by providing a space to gather.
“There is just a drive to do what we have all done – give back and serve and let this be a civic community building,” Hicks said. “Some veterans organizations don’t have a home. Team Rubicon does a lot of disaster relief and we coordinate with them. We get hit by a lot of tornadoes in Huntsville. We have a large parking lot for their heavy equipment, we have restrooms, we have a kitchen, plenty of room to put cots. So the next natural disaster that they need to deploy to, they have a teammate that is another veteran organization.”
But it hasn’t been easy getting to that point. As his young son crawls around, Hicks said a year ago, the floor was so filthy and room so cluttered that he would have never let him on the floor. A lot of sweat equity has gone into the post’s revitalization from volunteers, members and corporate sponsors. And an integral part of that revitalization is fundraising and recruitment.
“The more members we have, the more we are able to do,” said Chris Hunsberger, public affairs officer for the post. Anyone interested in volunteering or donating can reach the post via e-mail to email@example.com.
In addition to the main group, the VFW also has an auxiliary which traditionally was open to wives but in another nod to modernization, now includes all spouses.
“Our auxiliary and some of our Rolling Thunder riders who are members here have put a lot of time and effort into Tut Fann (Veterans Home),” Anderson said. “We’ve saved a couple of families from losing their houses since we reopened, as well as helping them get assistance from other sources.”
No longer a “bar with a VFW attached to it,” Post 2702 is ready and available to assist the community’s veterans. The post was on hand for the Soldier for Life-Retirement Appreciation Day event on Redstone Arsenal Oct. 25 and will be at the Veterans Day Parade Nov. 11. After the parade, the post is hosting a representative from Humana Life Insurance to speak with veterans about their health insurance needs. The post has also embraced the digital age.
“We’ve started (a social media) presence over the past year – Facebook, LinkedIn, various social media platforms,” Hunsberger said. “We’ve had people reach out and say, ‘I need help, I don’t know where to go’ and if the post doesn’t have the resources to directly help them, we can point them in the (right) direction.”
It’s a post with immeasurable history. Former Huntsville Mayor Joe Davis was a member. A piece of furniture is adorned with the sign: “Do not move: John Sparkman’s table.” But its members feel that now it is time to look to the future and welcome the next generation into their ranks.
“Our short-term goals are to continue to build the membership, connect to the community and let people know that we are here and things are happening,” Hunsberger said. “We didn’t close the doors – a lot of people saw the “for sale” sign for three years and everybody thought it was shut down. That’s changed over the past year and we are trying to get that message out. Long term, it’s helping veterans.”
VFW Huntsville monthly membership meeting is at 10:00 a.m. on the third Saturday of the month at Post 2702 located at 2900 North Memorial Pkwy. Meetings are open to members and they are actively recruiting eligible veterans. They welcome new ideas and support for veteran events. For more information, visit the post’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/VFWPost2702/ or website www.vfw2702.org.