How To Plan A Military Reunion

What Can You Do To Make Your Reunion A Success and Maximize Attendance?

The Origins of Military Reunions

Military reunions have been taking place in one form or another for as long as Americans have been serving their country. The first recorded reunions came after the Civil War, when Union and Confederate veterans would meet to help reconnect and heal the broken country. Many of these reunions revolved around the most famous battle – Gettysburg. There were numerous small reunions held in the decades following the battle. During a 1906 reunion of the Philadelphia Brigade and Pickett’s Division, Brig. General Lewis Armistead’s captured sword was returned to the South. Shortly after that, planning began for a Battle of Gettysburg 50th Reunion that was held a few years later – the ‘1913 Gettysburg Reunion’. Over 50,000 Union and Confederate veterans were in attendance from June 29 – July 4.

For generations veterans have been meeting to renew the unique bonds created through service, and Armed Forces Reunions, Inc. was fortunate to serve “The Greatest Generation” of WWII veterans when their reunions were in full swing in the 1980s. We’ve planned reunions for every branch of service in over 150 cities for veterans of every war, conflict, and peace time since WWII. Each group has their own identity, mantra, and personality; but all military reunion groups exist for the same purpose: to renew a sacred bond that only those standing next to you in uniform can understand, and to help with reintegration back into normal life.

A Military Reunion is a unique event and has requirements no other events do, which creates a challenge in your planning. Reunions have always been meant to be as inclusive as possible for the attendees, and every reunion coordinator wants the event to be as well attended as possible. There are certain things that can be done in your planning to ensure you maximize attendance and have a memorable event that leads to more reunions. Armed Forces Reunions, Inc. has long had the reputation of planning the most successful and well attended reunions, because of our focus on the core principles and purpose of a reunion. So, if you have been tasked with planning your group’s next reunion, you’re part of a new group that is planning your first formal reunion, or even if you’ve been planning your group’s reunion for years – don’t reinvent the wheel or spend hours of needless time looking for the right city and the perfect hotel.

The Hospitality Room – THE KEY

Before you start planning and choosing a city to visit – remember the purpose of the event: to spend time with each other as a group. You need a central gathering place which is why reunions are held in hotels that have function space and the ability to cater meals. The Hospitality Room is your central gathering place for the duration of the reunion, whether for two or five days – where all attendees can be together in the same room. This is the heart and soul of the reunion. You are probably thinking that a hotel function room is the last place you’d want for having fun with old buddies, so what exactly is the Hospitality Room? It should be in a hotel meeting room that has plenty of space to spread out, have seating at round tables, with memorabilia if folks are inclined to bring and share memorable items, AND you should be allowed to bring in your own alcohol and self-serve – yes that is possible in a hotel. Imagine having your favorite bar rented out for an entire weekend for your unit’s use – for free. THAT is what a good hospitality room is and THAT is what makes a reunion successful. Veteran groups have been doing exactly this for decades.

Dealing with Hotels

So easy enough, right? Just pick a city and tell the hotels what you need and you’re done! Unfortunately, it is nowhere near that simple. Not every hotel will allow this Hospitality Room and not every city has hotels that will allow this. Frankly, most hotels DO NOT allow this. Plus, you need to sign a group Hotel Contract for the event, and this is anything but straightforward. Hotel contracts have become so complex, risky, and one-sided that you really need a professional in your corner to ensure you are getting the best deals, and more importantly – that you don’t end up with a big financial penalty after the event for not meeting the hotel’s performance requirements. If you haven’t established an Association with the IRS, then you as the coordinator will be signing the hotel contract and would personally be held liable for any resulting penalties. Do you need to have a legitimate association to hold your first reunion? No, but that’s all the more reason to enlist a professional.

Choosing a City

Choosing the destination is as important as the hotel. How will people get there? Will they need to rent a car? Take a long uber from the airport to the hotel? Pay high parking costs? Anything that brings additional expenses will hurt your attendance. The point of reunion planning is to make it so anyone who wants to attend can afford to attend. Choosing a city that is easy to fly or drive to is a must. Does the hotel have free airport shuttles? Does it have free parking? How many connections does it take to fly there? You’ll have attendees from every corner of the country, so make sure the city chosen is easy to get to.

The biggest mistake groups make in the planning process is selecting a city and dates before talking to hotels or a professional. Again, not every city will have a hotel that allows the Hospitality Room that you need. And maybe the dates you selected are too high demand, making the room rates very expensive. Or maybe there is an annual festival or citywide convention that sells out all hotel at very high rates. Before you communicate dates or locations to your group, give us a call to talk about what locations are the best for military reunions and what time of year will get you the best room rates. This is setting yourself up for success from the very beginning. We have groups call us all the time after they’ve wasted weeks, even months talking to hotels in a city that just simply is not ‘reunion-friendly’. But they’ve already gone too far down the road and have membership expecting a reunion there, so they are stuck having a sub-par reunion.

Can You Afford a Planner?

There are many more details and nuances that go into planning a formal reunion, but these things are by far the most important and getting them right will make the rest of your planning so much easier. Not enough time or thought spent on this process will make the rest of your planning very frustrating. Planning your unit’s reunion can be a daunting task for sure, but you don’t have to do it alone. If you’re a new reunion group with no formal association, you probably assume there are no event planners that can or want to help you. And even if you have a formal association, you make think the same as most people: “event planners are expensive.” Well we were created specifically for planning military reunions, and since 1988 have planned thousands in over 150 cities. There are no costs to reunion groups or associations to use our services, and by doing so you’ll only be setting yourself up for success by taking advantage of our decades of experience and buying power.

Armed Forces Reunions, Inc. is here to help and to guide you down the path to great reunions. Generations of veterans before you have relied on our sound advice, expert hotel negotiating skills, extremely detailed planning, and general expertise in military reunions.

Give us a call today to talk about your ideas, learn more about planning a successful reunion, and to find out how AFR will get you there.

Charley Dey | 757-625-6401 |