Published in Member Corner in VFW Magazine, Nov./Dec. 2015
A new Post in Connecticut is stocked with young vets. It could be, as its commander claims, VFW’s youngest.
When Charlie Pickett moved to Connecticut in 2011 to attend college, the veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan wanted to transfer his VFW membership to a Post in New Haven, the state’s second-largest city. Surprisingly, there were none.
Pickett says past and current Department commanders Greg Smith and Bob Bailey, respectively, encouraged him to start one himself. After a 10-week recruiting drive conducted earlier this year during Pickett’s spring college semester, the Post was chartered in April.
Now, Post 12150 counts 46 members, and it may be the prototype VFW Post of the future. Only three of its members are older than 50. Two of those are Vietnam War vets and one is a 1991 Persian Gulf War vet. The rest are all Iraq and/or Afghanistan veterans.
“Many of our members are still serving in the Connecticut Army National Guard,” Pickett said. “Arguably, the VFW Post in New Haven is the youngest Post in the oldest major war veterans organization in America.”
Pickett, 48, served as a staff sergeant with the 814th Multi-Role Bridge Co., 46th Engineer Bn., in Iraq in 2007 and Afghanistan in 2010. He has a master’s degree in English from Southern Connecticut State University (SCSU), a school from which the Post has recruited several members. Pickett says that connection helped with recruiting.
“My contacts at SCSU helped initially, then word spread to the Connecticut Army National Guard’s 102nd Infantry Regiment,” Pickett said.
“Then the New Haven fire and police departments jumped in, then I made contacts with the other local colleges and they sent out an e-mail blast. So it was getting the word out, marketing to different groups and having a message that resonated with younger veterans.”
Pickett says the Post’s 32-year-old quartermaster used “personal relationships” and “word-of-mouth” to spread the message.
“Sgt. 1st Class Michael Finnegan seemingly recruited half of the state’s Guardsmen this way,” Pickett said. “The best way a college with veterans, a friend of the Post or a member can support a forming Post is to spread the word through personal contact or an e-mail blast to a group.”
To attract young vets, Pickett says Posts should “leverage” technology and take full advantage of VFW’s partnership with Student Veterans of America.
“SVA is conduit to vets who might not realize VFW’s value to them,” he said. “Offer to address the weekly SVA meeting even if it’s only three undergraduates. Leave business cards and a poster. Make sure to take a selfie and post your visit on Facebook.”
As commander of a new Post with many young members, Pickett says he is confident VFW will “evolve to avoid extinction.”
He wants his own Post to eventually provide “a strong volunteer presence” at the West Haven VA Medical Center, “embrace” VFW youth and education programs like Patriot’s Pen and support veterans and their families.
“I would like to see VFW New Haven as a fully-realized Post, one that is very much a part of New Haven,” he said. “I would like to see it as a destination Post, one that draws members from Connecticut and the Northeast to partake of some camaraderie, share a meal and perhaps enjoy the view of New Haven Harbor and Long Island Sound. We know we have to offer a real value to active and passive members so they will continue their support.”
For now, Pickett is establishing the Post’s non-profit and tax-exempt status, bonding the quartermaster and raising money for a Post flag to display in next year’s greater New Haven St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
He says he’s learned a lot while establishing the Post.
“The ‘friends network’ was the best way to reach young veterans,” said the aspiring high-school teacher. “By leveraging traditional and social media, as well as targeted online advertising, we were able to reach this segment.”
Dyhouse, Tim. “A ‘New Generation’ Post in New Haven.” VFW Magazine Nov.-Dec. 2015: 40. Print.