How Should Veterans Service Organizations Support The Post-9/11 Community?

Members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1815 in San Angelo wait for the Operation Enduring Freedom Ceremony to begin on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013. The post hopes to bring in members from younger generations.
AP Photo/The San Angelo Standard-Times, Andrew Mitchell

Veteran service organizations and military-related, non-profit organizations raise hundreds of millions of dollars every year, totaling billions since the Sept. 11 attacks. These groups --- over 45,000 in the United States --- provide many services, some valuable and some questionable. However, to remain relevant and sustainable in the long term, these support groups will have to reorganize themselves around community service at the local level.

The millennial generation of veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan do not want the same things as their older peers, and this schism is starting to affect the community funded by the public to support them. Organizations with a veteran or military focus appear to be splitting into two main categories: the large-scale organizations from previous eras that emphasize receiving benefits and telling war stories; and the more service-oriented community groups that emerged in the last decade, which focus on civic and physical challenges to foster camaraderie.

The traditional organizations are trying to adjust to a new reality. For the last few generations, these groups operated in an America that had a higher proportion of veterans to civilians and a greater connection to their communities. Organizations such as AmVets, American Legion, and Veterans of Foreign Wars --- while advocating for veteran legislation in D.C. --- primarily functioned like social clubs at the local level. Traditional programming centered around meetings, annual ceremonies, scholarships, and emergency financial support.

Service members who are now getting out of the military enter a much different world. Iraq and Afghanistan vets make up less than 1% of the total U.S. population. We are distanced, at least initially, from the civilians around us. Rather than looking primarily for social interaction, we are drawn to a captivating mission. We want to continue engaging with a service-oriented community that feeds our desire to be a part of a greater cause.

Fundraising and spending data exemplifies the divide between the different organizations serving these the veteran populations. The more traditional veteran support organizations bring in a lot of money from contributions, grants, fundraising campaigns and events, as well as government grants. Annual revenue varies widely, but groups such as the United Service Organizations Inc. ($141 million in revenue reported in 2013), Veterans of Foreign Wars ($97 million in revenue reported in 2012) and American Legion ($77 million in revenue reported in 2014) receive the lion’s share of the donations. No surprise, since it takes money to provide the capital-intensive activities such as maintaining thousands of locations around the country, providing scholarships and loans for dependents, and grants for those in financial need.

At the same time, there are newer, much smaller organizations with a lot of grassroots support. Most younger veterans are familiar with The Mission Continues ($7.3 million in revenue reported in 2013), Team Rubicon ($3.2 million in revenue reported in 2012), and Team Red White and Blue ($1.7 million in revenue reported in 2013). These groups emphasize community service projects, vocational training opportunities, group physical training activities, and mentorship at the local level. Community members are more likely to be engaged in the day-to-day programming. That is a core part of their value to veterans, particular in areas with greater concentrations of vets.

In some ways these groups are complementary. VFW and USO do not necessarily compete with many of the smaller organizations, but they do absorb the majority of donations because of their brand recognition and national marketing capacity. But the younger, leaner organizations actually don’t need as many resources. Many of their veteran-focused activities are cheap --- how much does it cost to get together and go for a run?

These newer groups leverage new technologies as well, which mitigates a lot of logistics and overhead expenses. Owning a national network of buildings or offices is probably not cost effective compared with the ease of connection across social media channels. Regardless of the mission, in the long term, every group will need some infrastructure at a headquarters, but not anywhere near as much as two or three decades ago.

With a shrinking veteran ratio across the country, there is a huge need for support groups to work together effectively. The bigger traditional organizations need to focus more on the mission-oriented work of the post-9/11 communities. They have the infrastructure and history to make an impact on a national scale, but need to implement a cultural rebranding if they hope to attract millennial veterans into their ranks and maintain their relevance and memberships. The newer, more decentralized veteran service organizations have the branding and versatility to attract new members, but need to work harder to reach more rural areas where veterans are falling through the cracks.

Advocacy and generic social events will always have their place, but vets will increasingly need a more active local calendar that meets the needs of a smaller, younger, more professional community. We want continued access to compelling missions. If the veteran service organizations of our past and those of our present combined their strongest qualities, they could create a network giving veterans the support, but also the purpose, that many of us seek after getting out of the military.

The video opens innocently enough. A bell sounds as we gaze onto a U.S. Navy frigate, safely docked at port at Naval Base San Diego. A cadre of sailors, dressed in "crackerjack" style enlisted dress uniforms and hauling duffel bags over their shoulders, stride up a gangplank aboard the vessel. The officer on deck greets them with a blast of a boatswain's call. It could be the opening scene of a recruitment video for the greatest naval force on the planet.

Then the rhythmic clapping begins.

This is no recruitment video. It's 'In The Navy,' the legendary 1979 hit from disco queens The Village People, shot aboard the very real Knox-class USS Reasoner (FF-1063) frigate. And one of those five Navy sailors who strode up that gangplank during filming was Ronald Beck, at the time a legal yeoman and witness to one of the strangest collisions between the U.S. military and pop culture of the 20th century.

"They picked the ship and they picked us, I don't know why," Beck, who left the Navy in 1982, told Task & Purpose in a phone interview from his Texas home in October. "I was just lucky to be one of 'em picked."

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Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Tuesday casually brushed aside the disturbing news that, holy shit, MORE THAN 100 ISIS FIGHTERS HAVE ESCAPED FROM JAIL.

In an interview with CNN's Christiane Amanpour, Esper essentially turned this fact into a positive, no doubt impressing public relations and political talking heads everywhere with some truly masterful spin.

"Of the 11,000 or so detainees that were imprisoned in northeast Syria, we've only had reports that a little more than a hundred have escaped," Esper said, adding that the Syrian Democratic Forces were continuing to guard prisons, and the Pentagon had not "seen this big prison break that we all expected."

Well, I feel better. How about you?

On Wednesday, the top U.S. envoy in charge of the global coalition to defeat ISIS said much the same, while adding another cherry on top: The United States has no idea where those 100+ fighters went.

"We do not know where they are," James Jeffrey told members of Congress of the 100+ escaped detainees. ISIS has about 18,000 "members" left in Iraq and Syria, according to recent Pentagon estimates.

A senior administration official told reporters on Wednesday the White House's understanding is that the SDF continues to keep the "vast majority" of ISIS fighters under "lock and key."

"It's obviously a fluid situation on the ground that we're monitoring closely," the official said, adding that released fighters will be "hunted down and recaptured." The official said it was Turkey's responsibility to do so.

President Trump expressed optimism on Wednesday about what was happening on the ground in northeast Syria, when he announced that a ceasefire between Turkey and the Kurds was expected to be made permanent.

"Turkey, Syria, and all forms of the Kurds have been fighting for centuries," Trump said. "We have done them a great service and we've done a great job for all of them — and now we're getting out."

The president boasted that the U.S.-brokered ceasefire had saved the lives of tens of thousands of Kurds "without spilling one drop of American blood."

Trump said that "small number of U.S. troops" would remain in Syria to protect oilfields.

Kade Kurita (U.S. Army photo(

Kade Kurita, the 20-year-old West Point cadet who had been missing since Friday evening, was found dead on Tuesday night, the U.S. Military Academy announced early Wednesday morning.

"We are grieving this loss and our thoughts and prayers go out to Cadet Kurita's family and friends," Lt. Gen. Darryl Williams, superintendent of West Point, said in the release.

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Editor's Note: This article by Matthew Cox originally appeared on, a leading source of news for the military and veteran community.

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Just two months ago, the Army selected General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems inc., Textron Systems and Sig Sauer Inc. for the final phase of the NGSW effort — one of the service's top modernization priorities to replace the 5.56mm M4A1 carbine and the M249 squad automatic weapon in infantry and other close-combat units.

Army officials, as well as the companies in competition, have been guarded about specific details, but the end result will equip combat squads with weapons that fire a specially designed 6.8mm projectile, capable of penetrating enemy body armor at ranges well beyond the current M855A1 5.56mm round.

There have previously been glimpses of weapons from two firms, but this year's AUSA was the first time all three competitors displayed their prototype weapons, which are distinctly different from one another.

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The Minot Air Force Base main gate (U.S. Air Force photo)

The Air Force is investigating reports that an airman consumed marijuana while assigned to one of the highly-sensitive missile alert facility (MAF) responsible for overseeing Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles at Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota.

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