Much is made of the obvious split between the comfort zone of older members and the goals of younger “Millennial” members. For the uninitiated, Millennials are those folks who reached young adulthood around the year 2000. This is, in large measure, the generation we sent to war in Iraq and Afghanistan. They are a great generation which has sacrificed much and done it willingly as they comprise an all-volunteer military force.
There are many illuminating articles about what makes this generation “tick,” and why they perceive Veterans Organizations such as the VFW and other old established groups in a very different light from their predecessors. In some cases, they feel as though our organizations are beyond the prime and are rigidly bound to rules, regulations and ritual that simply get in their way and seems to stymie their efforts. Meetings bore them, they say. Meetings take too long, they say. Meetings dwell on formalities and kill the chance to share a little camaraderie with fellow Veterans and do stuff they think would be good for Veterans and the community at large, they say. Know what? They’re right!
Many Millennials think they are the first generation to find some of our institutional habits unproductive. The truth is, they aren’t the first to notice. There are countless other Vets out there (Vietnam, First Gulf War, Bosnia, for example) who have been turned off for years with some of the less productive practices we seem to hold dear. The Millennials, though, have been very effective at making their feelings known rather than just keeping quiet and fading away. So they deserve two things: One – They deserve thanks for putting the spotlight on things that need to change. And Two – They deserve this organization’s attention and focus on changing the way we conduct ourselves and do our business.
If you’ve been at one of the meetings where I’ve had a chance to open up on this topic, you already know that I harp on Post Commanders to take control of their meetings and put some brain work and planning into the agenda by which they conduct business. In my opinion there are darn few Post meetings that need to run much over a half an hour. We have gotten into some very bad habits and these bad habits are costing us members, time, talent and support.
We have Bylaws and Parliamentary procedures in place that are perfect tools for keeping our meetings on track and to the point. But for far too long, these same tools have been misused to bludgeon the enthusiasm out of the very people they’re here to help. We need to clean up our act at the Post level, and the District level and all the way up the chain.
We even need to examine our ritual and update the things we do and how we do them. The other night, following our own Post meeting, a good, solid Korean War Veteran and retired Sgt. Major chatted me up and said, “Why have we never updated even the symbols we use? So much of our stuff points only to World War I, and it feels like we’re ignoring all the wars since!” He’s right, and he’s not even a Millennial! The VFW needs to re-examine our ritual, top to bottom, and bring us up to date.
Our Auxiliary organization, formerly the “Ladies Auxiliary,” has had to adapt to a brand new perspective in the way they conduct their meetings now that their membership rolls are open to men as well as women. In perusing their new Podium Edition, which arrived at our house a few weeks ago, I couldn’t help noticing that they now offer an alternate meeting ritual that is vastly streamlined and thus much more contemporary. This will have to happen in the VFW as well… and soon!
I believe that if we got out of our round-shouldered, humdrum posture and focused like laser beams on making our meetings brisk, productive and enjoyable, we’d bring back some members that have opted to stay home in the recliner rather than come out and get ritually bored to tears in wandering, pointless meetings. At the same time we’d create a setting where Millennials feel welcome and want to come in, share some thoughts, have some fun, and do something worthwhile.
Let’s get our collective act together and become a positive force for Veterans: For one another! We have all the tools. We have the power to make the changes. Let’s do this thing. Let’s lead the way to the future from right here at our local Post. If enough of us do that, we’ll get back the spirit that enabled us to blaze trails in Veterans services. Adapt. Improvise. Overcome. We can do it!