Historically military reunion’s attendees have been of similar age, having served together during the same conflicts. Typically, the members that attend reunions are past retirement age and many groups see their attendance dwindle as their members age – no one is getting any younger! There’s been a large gap of time between conflicts that produced reunion-goers, Vietnam veterans have long been some of the most tight-knit groups. But between Vietnam and the Gulf Wars was a long time and even the Desert Storm veterans didn’t start holding reunions until recent years.
The young generation of veterans that served in Iraq and Afghanistan together are a totally different breed and are wanting to have reunions already even though most are in their 30s – early 40s and have full time careers. For the ones that deployed in the early 2000s, it’s been 20 years already! What’s the difference? They grew up with the internet and social media! These younger veterans are used to always being connected with those they care about and many already have Facebook groups for their units where they keep in touch with each other.
AFR gets calls from Iraq and Afghanistan veterans asking how to organize their own reunion group all the time. But guess what? Many of these veterans served in the same units that your reunions groups did in Vietnam or other conflicts.
There are indeed some reunion associations of units that are no longer active and wouldn’t have this group of younger veterans to tap into, but there are SO many reunion associations that have been around for decades and whose units have been active for 75 years or more, these have an enormous pool of young veterans that are potential new members and reunion goers.
Now is the time for reunion associations to decide: ‘should we dedicate ourselves to recruiting the next generation of veterans and ensure our association lives on forever?’ OR ‘should we keep meeting with just our guys as long as we still can then close up shop?’ – there is no wrong answer, but it is a decision that all groups are faced with.
So how can you get young veterans of the Middle East involved in your associations? Facebook would be the first place to start. Most active units and ships have Facebook pages that are run by the military and share the recent happenings with that unit or ship. The young generation that is not apart of a reunion association will follow these pages to keep involved and ‘in the know’ about their current or old unit. If your unit is still active, search for their Facebook page and get involved with it. Reach out to the administrators and ask to promote your reunion association on their page. Next would be getting the current command of your unit involved. Once you get a couple young veterans engaged it will become much easier.
When you do get a new veteran that is excited and engaged about your association, get them on your board or committee as soon as you can. They will bring a new energy and outlook to your leadership and will be able to led the charge in getting more young veterans involved.
This generation of Middle East veterans will be attending reunions in the very near future, whether that is by starting their own association or joining one of yours is up to you.