More Veterans Networking Via the Web
By Tyler Sipe —
Many soldiers returning from duty in Iraq and Afghanistan are increasingly connecting with fellow veterans using the Internet, as evidenced by the launch of social networking Web sites like www.CommunityofVeterans.org and www.myvetwork.org
The trend has caught the interest of local leaders representing veteran organizations, who believe the internet could become a method to recruit members, particularly younger, more tech savvy soldiers returning from current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Karina Saavedra, a post commander at the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Fremont Post 1917, said recruiting Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans has been difficult. She said many young soldiers have the impression of a cigarette-smoke filled veteran’s halls, with perceptions of VFW members being difficult to connect to on a personal level.
But she hopes the internet could be a valuable asset in dispelling those myths and attracting younger veterans to the organization.
“In the next couple of year’s I hope to improve our (internet) homepage (for VFW Post 1917),” said Saavedra, a 27-year-old Iraq War veteran. “Right now I can’t even get my friends, or my former commrades to join.”
Saavedra said of the 179 members at the Fremont post, more than half served in the Vietnam War, 10 percent served in WWII and only about 2 percent of members served in the Iraq or Afghanistan Wars.
Nationally, Vietnam veterans made up about 33 percent of the estimated 23.6 million veterans last year, according to a statistical abstract provided by the US Census Bureau. WWII veterans comprise about 12 percent of the total. While 21 percent, or about 5 million soldiers served in the Middle East from the beginning of the 1990 Gulf War to the current Iraq and Afghanistan War, according to the U.S. Census.
Organizations like the VFW and the American Legion have seen a steady decline in membership. According to a story reported by the Associated Press, the VFW currently has about 1.6 million members nationally, down from its peak during the Persian Gulf War of about 2.2 million. Similarly, the American Legion has 2.6 million members, a decline from its high of 3.1 million members.
As a result, the organizations are hoping the internet will help expand membership, and entice younger soldiers to join their organizations.
The VFW launched the community networking Web site www.myvetwork.org on Veteran’s Day. The site is designed for all members of the armed services, in addition to their friends and family.
Another Web site, www.CommunityofVeterans.org, created by the Ad Council in coordination with the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), was also launched this past Veteran’s Day. The social networking site caters to returning Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans.
US Army Staff Srgt. George Heath of San Francisco watched Tuesday’s Veteran’s Day parade meander through downtown Hayward. The 28-year-old said he’s a member of VFW, but has only attended two meetings.
“The way things are going now, everything will be on the Internet,” said Heath, who recently relocated to the area from Colorado, and used the Internet to make friends who also served in the military.
Larry Banks, a Vietnam veteran who served in the Navy, said he has become interested in military organizations in the past couple of years, after his son, Seth Banks, 25, enlisted in the National Guard.
“I think the Web is going to get people like me out of their shells,” Banks said.
Banks, a resident of Fremont, said the internet has been useful in helping him locate long-lost friends, simply by typing in their name using a search engine, and now corresponds with them using e-mail.
Older veterans, like WWII Marine Maurice Stratton, 85, said the Internet is not for everyone. The Port Angeles, Wash. resident said he sees a downside to the continuing trend toward the Web.
“I connect with people in person and younger generation’s don’t get that concept,” Stratton said. “I’d much rather talk to someone face-to-face than push buttons.”
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