Veterans organizations have dwindled in size, and some have even disbanded because those who served during the Vietnam and Gulf wars, along with the war on terror in Iraq and Afghan-istan, are reluctant to join.
The problem facing veterans organizations is that their membership tends to be dominated by people who served during World War II and the Korean War. Membership dwindles as members pass away.
Two veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan are making a concerted effort to entice people from their generation join local American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars posts in Lodi and Stockton.
"We welcome everybody with open arms," said Ryan Dinkel, 30, a Lodi American Legion board member and senior vice member of the Lockeford VFW.
Locally, the Lodi and Galt VFW posts have disbanded within the past decade because they didn't have enough members. Some of them joined the Lockeford post, but Dinkel and Stockton resident Josh Rodriguez, 26, hope to get more.
Dinkel says there are several reasons younger people aren't interested enough in joining a veterans organization. Among them:
- They are busy reconstructing their lives after being discharged from the service.
- They are busy at work or school.
- They're unaware of what the Legion or VFW have to offer. Some of that comes from lack of publicity.
- Veterans tend to converse mostly with those who served during the same war or era, not with people older or younger than they are.
- They don't know how to join a post or who to contact.
Former Lodi American Legion Commander Kenny Kramlich, who is now the post's service and financial officer, said that Dinkel's right about members not talking much with veterans of different generations, and they don't do a good job of promoting themselves.
"We do a lot of things in the community, but we don't toot our own horn," Kramlich said.
Examples of community activity, Kramlich said, include the American Legion summer baseball program and an annual event called Boys State and Girls State, where high school students actively learn how local and state government works.
Kramlich said he agrees with Dinkel that veterans' organizations need new blood, but Dinkel sees a lifestyle difference.
"People my age want to do stuff and be active, but a lot of hierarchy in the post are stuck in their ways," Dinkel said. "We want to do something fun rather than do something like watching spiders crawl on the wall."
Dinkel added that he'd like to take Legion and VFW members on field trips to help disabled patients at the Livermore and Palo Alto Veterans Administration hospitals.
Dinkel said that Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have said on his Facebook page that it's expensive to join veterans' organizations. For those under 30, a life membership to a Legion post costs more than $1,000. It's less than $500 to be a life member of the VFW. Legion and VFW posts provide a source of socialization with other veterans and provide veterans help with their VA claims, resumes and educating them about school opportunities, Dinkel said.
"It's hard to get that point across," Kramlich said.
Born and raised in Lodi, Dinkel is a 1998 Tokay High School graduate. His late father, Robert Dinkel, taught metal shop, welding and auto shop at Tokay. His mother, Carol, recently retired as a Lakewood Elementary School teacher.
Dinkel's father, a first sergeant in the U.S. Army, tried to talk his son out of joining the service because he didn't want his son to get hurt like he did.
"I joined the Marines to get back at him," Dinkel said, recalling his teenage years when he rebelled against his father.
Not only did he join the service, but Dinkel joined the Marines because it was a tougher experience.
"I figured it was more of a challenge," Dinkel said. "The whole mentality and respect. Marine boot camp is longer and more intense. I actually needed it."
Dinkel did get injured in 2006, and was medically discharged two years later after undergoing rehabilitation.
"It was hot and miserable. It haunts me to this day," Dinkel said of his time in Iraq. "We were always in harm's away. There were constant mortar attacks, constant hissing of bullets passing by. My whole left knee is not mine. My vehicle blew up."
Dinkel served nine years in the Marines, including two tours of duty in Iraq.
Rodriguez is also a Lockeford VFW member, but his American Legion affiliation is with the Karl Ross post in Stockton. He served four tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan with the Marines.
"I was in roadside bombing in '06 in Iraq," Rodriguez said. "Got my bell rung pretty hard."
They both attend San Joaquin Delta College, where Dinkel aspires toward a career in law enforcement and Rodriguez hopes to become a speech language pathologist.
They also work on campus at the Troops to College office, which provides tutors and other sources of help for veterans and non-veterans alike in pursuing a career.
"One of the best perks, if you're a veteran, is you get priority registration (at Delta)," Rodriguez said. And they'll tell you all about veterans' organizations and how they can help as well.
Contact reporter Ross Farrow at email@example.com.