To become the commander in chief (CiC) of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, it is a multi-year process costing thousands of dollars, miles, and hours. Interestingly, it emulates the vetting process of other fraternal organizations—except the CiC of the VFW testifies before congress, meets presidents, influences national policy, and oversees the largest combat veterans’ organization in America.
To understand the process is to understand the structure of the VFW and how traditions shape the politics of the organization:
- The CiC is a one-year term.
- At the national level, there are three senior leadership “seats” (CiC, Senior Vice, Junior Vice)
- The VFW is divided into four regions (East (including Europe), South, Big-10, and West (including Pacific areas))
- The CiC seat rotates between the four regions
- Typically, a Jr. Vice seamlessly moves up in seats (unless there is a problem) and becomes CiC in two years.
- The true political conflict is for the regional “endorsement” for Jr. Vice
- With three seats and four regions, one region “sits out” for a year—and that is the year that region picks their endorsed candidate.
During the year a region sits out, the departments (a state or organized area) in a region decide on a candidate to endorse for Jr. Vice, typically at the winter conference. This conference endorsement is based on the number of department endorsements. It is very likely the endorsed candidate from a region will be accepted by the other three regions and ascend to national Jr. Vice at the subsequent annual convention. Because of this, to capture the endorsement of a regional conference is tantamount to winning the CiC floor vote, which happens about two years and nine months later.
Using the Eastern Conference as an example, a quick timeline looks like this:
- July 2016: CiC from Eastern Conference finishes term at end of National Convention
- Nov. 2016: Eastern Conference endorses a candidate for national Jr. Vice
- July 2017: Eastern Conference submits slate of endorsed candidates; the four conferences accept each others’ slates; the endorsed candidates are elected on the last day of the convention
- July 2018: Eastern Conference candidate for Sr. Vice elected
- July 2019: Eastern Conference candidate for CiC elected
- July 2020: CiC from Eastern Conference finishes term; cycle repeats
It is in the months and years before this endorsement vote at the regional conference where candidates seek the endorsements of the individual departments—and that’s where the time, miles, and money are spent lobbying department leaders for department endorsements. Lobbying includes speaking at department Council of Administration meetings, showing up at big department events, and showing up at regional conference meetings. Additionally, much like a political campaign, handing out literature and marketing materials (such as coins and branded trinkets) to influencers is a part of the equation — so is hanging a campaign flyer in the men’s room of the national convention (nice guerrilla marketing technique!).
What are some things a comrade can do to improve their resume and increase their chances of gaining department and then regional conference endorsements?
- show up
- be involved
- RECRUIT NEW MEMBERS
- hold the seats at post, district, and state level
- be a triple-crown All-American commander (post, district, department)
- hold national appointments
- go to conventions and conferences
- testify before local and state hearings
- give speeches; look like a leader
- run a campaign
What are some other things?:
- valorous service, Purple Heart, Silver Star
- officer rank
- do something outstanding
- transcend the mundane
- create and navigate alliances
There are a number of other factors (size of department, if the department had a CiC recently) that goes into the equation, but that is for another post for another day.