2022 “Back to Normal” Reunion

Navigating the challenges presented to reunion associations the last 2 years have been trying for many groups. The frustration of planning the same event twice to only have it cancel drove a lot of groups to simply not plan anything at all in 2021. It’s also disturbed the standard timing of annual or bi-annual reunions. Groups that meet in even years had to decide whether to plan a 2021 reunion to make up for 2020, or to just put it off until 2022. Others that meet in the fall have had to switch to meeting in the spring, and so on. This raises many challenges and questions that chairman and coordinators have not had to face in the past.

AFR has guided our groups through this trying time and ensured their interests are always put first. Almost all our groups held reunions this year, and with limited attendance due to Covid, our expertise in hotel contracting ensured they were protected against all risk. Our decades-long relationships with hotels across the nation got our groups out of tens of thousands of dollars in penalties and cancellation fees. Planning an event of any kind is a risky proposition in the current state of the market, and for a reunion association that relies on member contributions for the balance sheet simply cannot afford to pay penalties to hotels for not meeting the contract requirements.

Now more than ever, reunion groups need a professional on their side.

In 2022, all groups should expect great attendance. After all, most reunions have not met since 2018 or 2019! That’s a long time when your members are used to seeing each other every year or every other year. This will make next year’s reunions that much more special. However, planning for a reunion when you’re not sure what the attendance will be like is a challenging and risky task – but one that can be completed with confidence when you have an expert on your side like AFR.

The two biggest risk categories in a hotel contract are the room block attrition and the food & beverage minimum spend amount. It is extremely important to have no risk or as little risk as possible in the hotel contract when planning for your 2022 reunion. How do you achieve this? Hotels are not very motivated to give discounts and flexible performance clauses when you are a one-off piece of business to them, as reunion groups are. When AFR calls our hotel partners, they know exactly what our groups need, and we have negotiated discounts and flexible performance clauses that all AFR groups get to take advantage of. Buying Power is what will get you a risk-free hotel contract, and there is no other planner or company that even comes close to the Buying Power AFR represents in the military reunion market.

Call us today to talk about ideas for your 2022 reunion. Groups get the most out of AFR when we are involved from the very beginning question of: “Where should we go?” – we will guide you to a city where hotels are military and reunion-friendly and will give you a hospitality room that equals a successful reunion.

Don’t let the threat of Covid or travel restrictions deter you from planning your next reunion for your members; call AFR and get THE reunion experts in your corner to ensure you are protected against all risk and your “Back to Normal” 2022 reunion is the best one yet.



Ten Thousand Day War at Sea Exhibit: The US Navy in Vietnam

Battleship Wisconsin and The Hampton Roads Naval Museum: 10,00 Day War at Sea

Berthed at Nauticus on Norfolk’s waterfront, the Battleship Wisconsin, one of the largest and last battleships ever built by the U.S. Navy, has long been open to the public as one of the nation’s finest naval museums. For years reunions groups of all branches have walked her decks. A tour onboard will take you back in time to experience this majestic ship that earned five battle stars during WWII.  Go below deck to explore previously sealed off areas of the Battleship, including the Captain’s cabin, Admiral’s cabin, Combat Engagement Center, Flag Bridge, navigation Bridge and Quartermaster’s space.  This fascinating tour takes visitors seven decks down in the depths of the Battleship Wisconsin, where they’ll learn exactly what was required to power this massive City at Sea.

The Wisconsin is also open for military ceremonies, such as your group’s memorial ceremony. There is no cost to hold ceremonies on the ship, which is open for them Wednesday through Friday between 10am and 1pm.

Inside Nauticus, you’ll find many maritime exhibits and the main attraction for reunions, The Hampton Roads Naval Museum.  The Naval Museum is located on level two and is owned and operated by the United States Navy. The museum houses a rich collection of authentic uniforms, weaponry, underwater artifacts, detailed ship models and artwork. If your group has been to Norfolk, chances are you’ve done this tour one or more times. So what’s new? This year, the museum opens a brand-new exhibit that will be a huge draw for all naval reunion groups, especially those that served in Vietnam. If your group has been to Norfolk a few times before and been on all the tours, this is something new your members would love to see. The Ten Thousand-Day War at Sea – The US Navy in Vietnam, 1950-1975 exhibit is now open to honor the sailors of Vietnam and the Navy’s contributions at sea, on land, and in the skies. Never before has there been such a dedicated effort to recognize and promote the legacy of the sailors in Vietnam.

AFR got our start bringing Navy ship reunions to our homeport of Norfolk, and for over 30 years we’ve guided groups to successful reunions here and in over 150 cities nationwide. Call us today to talk about your next reunion in Norfolk to see this amazing new exhibit.

Charley Dey | 757-625-6401 | charley@afri.com

Getting the Next Generation of Veterans Involved

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.

Exclusive Veteran Interview: Colonel (Ret) Robert Dudley

Sent to Vietnam in 1970 after being commissioned in the Field Artillery, U.S. Army Second Lieutenant Robert M. Dudley first served as a forward observer, providing artillery support to his maneuver unit. He was reassigned as the fire direction officer for South Vietnamese and U.S. troops near Khe Sanh and in Laos during Operation Lam Son 719. Ultimately he became the battery executive officer in 1971, serving as the second in command of six 155 mm howitzers supporting troops along the Demilitarized Zone. “Field artillery can be compared to a boxer,” Dudley said. “The forward observer is the eyes, the fire direction center the brains, and the guns the fists.”

He had some close calls: “On March 25 we were under constant artillery, rocket and mortar assault from a cave in Laotian cliffs. I thought this was my last day and I wanted to take out as many of those SOBs as I could. We counter-fired for nearly twelve hours, and had to resupply our ammunition with a jeep and trailer. I’d time it, and when I heard them fire, I’d jump into a ditch. Once the shells hit, I’d get back in the jeep and continue resupplying. We were lucky to make it out.”

Dudley received numerous medals in Vietnam, including the Soldiers Medal for Valor; three Bronze Stars, one with V Device for Valor; and the Army Commendation Medal with V Device for Valor for recovering a howitzer after a gun pit had taken a direct hit and the ammunition bunkers were on fire.

Several years after Vietnam, Dudley earned a Master of Science in Management from the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California and began a long career with many assignments stateside and abroad. He commanded as a captain, lieutenant colonel and colonel, serving on staffs from battalion through Army levels, including battalion executive officer and Chief Officer Management at Fort Sill in the early 1980s and in Germany as a brigade S3 and commander of the 3rd Battalion 35th Field Artillery. Dudley returned stateside teaching tactics at the Command and General Staff College before attending the Armed Forces Staff College and the U.S. Army War College Fellowship at the School of Advanced Military Studies. “I guess you could describe me as a combat warrior who became an academic military strategist,” said Dudley, 69, who lives with wife Patricia in Bonner Springs, outside Kansas City.

Retiring in 1997 after more than 29 years, Dudley worked at Sprint, but soon began to serve his country from the private sector, helping fight the war against terrorism as Terrorism Task Leader at Fort Leavenworth for MPRI, a defense contracting company. In 2002 he headed research, writing and editing of the first two versions of A Military Guide to Terrorism in the Twenty-First Century and provided anti-terrorism training for National Guard units deploying to Kosovo.  He also helped train law enforcement professionals going to Iraq and Afghanistan. Today he is a part-time consultant with Engility Corporation and regularly travels to Germany to provide military analysis during multinational training exercises. “My work in the private sector is helped tremendously by the real-world experience and technical skills I developed in my military career,” he said.


Scott McCaskey is a contributing writer for BMR.com, Account Director at Goldman & Associates Public Relations and a former staff writer for the Virginian-Pilot newspaper.

Top Reunion Destination: Providence & Warwick, RI

A Picturesque Coastal New England Reunion

Rhode Island may be the smallest state in the nation, but it packs plenty of excitement into its borders. The state’s hundreds of miles of coastline, rich Colonial history and acclaimed restaurants help create a memorable reunion destination.

With nearly 400 years of history, Rhode Island has many stories to tell, and an array of things to do for all tastes. RI’s state capital, Providence, combines the charm of a New England town with the cosmopolitan flair of a big city. Compact and walkable, Providence is heralded for its world-class dining scene and beautifully preserved historic architecture.

Rhode Island boasts several attractions dedicated to preserving and sharing the history of the military. And with its coastal geography, it is no surprise that the state has strong ties to the Navy. The U.S. Naval War College and its Museum are located in nearby Newport. The museum highlights the history of naval warfare dating back to ancient times and the naval heritage linked to RI’s Narragansett Bay.

The Seabee Museum and Memorial Park – the original home of the U.S. Navy Seabees – in North Kingstown, is another popular spot to visit. Battleship Cove, located right over the state line, in Fall River, Mass., harbors the largest collection of preserved U.S. Navy ships in the world.

Visitors will find lots of options for their free time in Providence. The RISD Museum at the Rhode Island School of Design showcases more than 91,000 works of art ranging from the ancient to the avant-garde. Foodies will want to see the one-of-a-kind Culinary Arts Museum at Johnson & Wales University, which displays 500,000 food-related artifacts, including a complete diner. Theater lovers can take in a show at the beautifully gilded Providence Performing Arts Center or at the Tony Award-winning Trinity Repertory Company.

Conveniently located in the center of the state, Warwick is a quick 10-minute drive from Providence. Warwick features a variety of hotel and dining options and is known as “The Retail Capital of Rhode Island.” Home to two malls and hundreds of stores, Warwick is ideal for those looking to do some shopping while in town.

With easy access for attendees flying or driving in, walkable shops and restaurants, many military and cultural museums, and the beautiful coastline, the Providence/Warwick area has long been a favorite reunion destination. AFR has been negotiating the best hotel contracts possible and planning engaging tours for our groups in Rhode Island and New England for decades.

Contact us today to talk about your next reunion’s destination, and remember – it’s all about the hospitality room and where you can find hotels that will allow you to provide your own snacks and beverages.


Charley Dey