SUGAR GROVE – Many younger veterans may think of their American Legion or VFW as a dated establishment.
While they most definitely admire what these World War II, Korean War and Vietnam War veterans have done for the country, most don’t feel like they fit in with them so many are pursuing other options for fellowship.
Trevor Sartain, commander of Sugar Grove American Legion Post 1271, wants these younger vets to reconsider the American Legion.
“There is that camaraderie of vets telling their stories, but we do so much more than that,” he said. “We participate in parades. We have special events, bands and karaoke, so it’s a cool private club, and there are also a lot community activities we’re involved in.”
Sartain, who at age 42 is considered one of the younger vets, said that his post is also heading a horse therapy program for veterans with brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder that is providing non-medicated relief.
“Unfortunately, we’re still kind of disconnected from many vets,” he said. “It’s a group thing here where they can be around their peers and as a veteran you can relate better to other veterans.”
All World War I veterans are gone and according to American Veterans Aid, only about 500,000 of the 16 million Americans who fought in World War II are still around today. There are still more than 2.3 million members of the Legion, making it the nation’s largest wartime veterans service organization, but its numbers have dropped substantially from having more than 3 millions members just 20 years ago.
“My adjutant [his brother, Wes Sartain] was going over the book of our memberships and in the next 10 years it’s going to drop because of the age of our members,” he said. “It’s morbid to think about, but in the next 10 years that membership is going to be cut in half, which is not good.”
Since this isn’t a problem just in Sugar Grove, Sartain and other posts are working together to try to attract new members, because many of those younger veterans are redirecting their lives by building private-sector careers and starting families. Many aren’t aware of the benefits of joining the American Legion or prefer alternative social options, including fitness clubs, churches and volunteer opportunities.
“Working with other Legions has really helped, and we recently had some success with four or five new members come through,” he said. “We did a pub crawl event with five American Legions and each had their own bus so it was kind of cool to see 140 people walk through our doors.”
Sugar Grove will continue to try to get more of those types of people to walk through its doors regularly, and Sartain is willing to do whatever he can to help make it happen.
“The more younger people we get the better it’s going to be for all involved,” he said. “You can be part of something here and the message I have is that this is yours. It’s a veterans club so come out here and make it your own, especially at the post level.”
A great deal of information about Sugar Grove American Legion Post 1271 is available at www.sgal1271.org including a calendar of upcoming events, although Sartain especially invites those interested in membership to drop in to see what the post can offer them.