After leaving the Army, Derric Grimes wanted to continue serving. American Legion Post 116 in Fuquay-Varina, N.C., not only provided that opportunity for the post-9/11 veteran, it embraced the entire Grimes family.
“What drew me in to The American Legion was the focus on family; Post 116 has always been family-focused,” says Grimes, the post and district commander. “You see that in our programs and the focus on families.”
Ten years ago the post had 250 members. Now, driven by its commitment to community, it's North Carolina's largest post with 918 members in a town of 25,000 people.
A few years ago the post created its own Cruisers Club, which is believed to be the first such group sponsored by The American Legion. The Department of North Carolina took note, and approved it as a program. Now, a half-dozen posts in the Tar Heel State have adopted the program, which is similar to American Legion Riders.
The Cruisers Club at Post 116 hosts twice-annual classic car shows that generate new members and community goodwill. The club also entertains residents at senior homes and VA hospitals, while doing fundraisers.
The Post 116 family also provides a home for a Boy Scouts troop, cleans up highway trash, hosts a barbeque competition, donates to school arts programs, participates in suicide prevention walks and more.
“Every post has an obligation to uphold The American Legion brand,” Grimes says. “We came together at this post in Fuquay-Varina because there are needs in this community. One hundred years ago The American Legion was formed because there was a need in the communities. The veterans came together and said, ‘We won the war to end all wars, there’s nothing we can’t do together. Let’s go into our communities and make the changes necessary to make our communities better.”
Clearly, the needs of Fuquay-Varina are different than the community of San Antonio, which are different than the needs in Billings, Mont. “Every community has a need and The American Legion Family has an opportunity to fill that need,” he says.
Fuquay-Varina is located in Wake County, about 20 miles south of Raleigh-Durham. It’s a growing community, primarily young families.
“There are quite a few young veterans moving to Fuquay-Varina,” Grimes said. “So the post has adapted and changed the way that it operates. It has changed the public perception of what it is. Now here in Fuquay-Varina, The American Legion is a place for families. For me, having three combat tours in eight years and my wife, Jen — who was in the National Guard — family time is sacred. Knowing that I can bring my family to The American Legion makes all the difference.”
The post is a place where Derric and Jen’s daughters — Savannah, 6, and Charlotte, 3 — romp around freely. During the fall car show, as hundreds of classic car fans admired the 50 on display, the girls played, ran around and enjoyed the Sunday afternoon with their parents and extended post family. Both girls are members of the Junior Auxiliary.
“Having my family be a part of The American Legion has been a growth opportunity,” says Grimes. “They see that this is an organization that they can be a part of and give back.”
During the post’s monthly fish frys, Savannah passes out tartar sauce and ketchup. “She knows that it’s something she can do and it helps,” her dad says. “She did it on her own. I didn’t ask her if she wanted to do it. Setting the example for them taught her to volunteer.”
The post emphasizes the American Legion Family in everything it does. The post welcomes Legionnaires, Auxiliary members, SAL members, Riders and Cruisers to its regular business meetings. But the teamwork doesn’t stop there.
“Every member of the American Legion Family is a recruiter for every part of the family,” Grimes says.
And that starts with the first meeting of a prospective member, regardless of gender, war era or membership eligibility.
“Every time we meet a veteran, we also ask about the family,” Grimes explains. “We try to change the focus from just the veteran to the veteran and his or her family. My peers and the people who have been serving since 9/11 have deployed, come home, deployed come home, deployed, come home. And there family time is important. We try to tailor our activities so that they are not just family-friendly, but family-focused.”
In fact, Grimes, who was a Silver Brigader last year, recruited more members of the Sons and Auxiliary than he did for The American Legion. “It’s a family effort.”
The recruiting also extends to those still serving in uniform.
Nathaniel “Nat” and Jocelyn Bradley, a married couple stationed at Fort Bragg, are members of Post 116. They were both recruited to the post by Grimes.
“You want to serve and do whatever you can to assist, whether it’s active duty, reserves or this organization,” Nat said.
Jocelyn enjoys the camaraderie apparent at Post 116. “It’s nice to have a community of like-minded people who have given their time to the military and to their country,” she said. “The organization serves veterans while active-duty members still benefit as well as other veterans and retirees.”
After the Bradleys separate from the military, they see the Legion as an opportunity to continue their service.
“Derric is really inspiring,” Jocelyn said. “It’s been great to see all the work that he has been doing. I think when we do have more time, we will get more involved. It’s all about volunteerism. If it’s one thing I wish I had more time for, it’s volunteering.”
Grimes understands that not every post is in a community where young veterans are numerous. For example, he cites Post 328 in Kenly. “We have to coach them up as leaders,” he says. “Don’t set yourself up to be disappointed in this goal that you can’t achieve. You will succeed by tailoring what you do to your community. Set a realistic goal and achieve that.”
He also knows the struggle of bringing current servicemembers or veterans from any service era into the post. They have busy lives with family obligations, work commitments and other duties that fill their days.
The trick, he says, is to find out what the veteran is interested in via mentorship, coaching and conversation. “Finding what people are passionate about and using that to support the programs of The American Legion. We do that on a targeted basis and enable them to do it.
As full-time worker with a young family at home, Grimes understands the tricky balance first-hand. He admits sometimes things don’t get done at home; sometimes things don’t get done at the Legion post. Setting and balancing priorities for both is the key to success.
“Your membership in The American Legion is an investment in your future,” Grimes explains. “Balancing all those different hats — being a post commander, district commander, a father of two girls, working a construction job 60 hours a week, going to church, basically life — is feasible. You can do it but it’s not easy.
For Grimes, there are times when he misses family time to attend to Legion business like attending Washington Conference and advocating for veterans’ rights with members of Congress.
“That’s the example I am setting for my daughters and they understand that Dad has to go away but he is doing it for other veterans and their families,” he says. “That is teaching them, instilling the values I want in them as a father. It’s more about giving of yourself and serving others than always being there for every event in our family. Do I wish I could be there for every event? Absolutely. But the biggest thing I would tell people may age, those who have been in the military since 9/11 or who are getting out now, retiring, is The American Legion is an organization that is committed to you and your family as a veteran and ensuring you have a future.”
The Grimes family is among those who consider their extended family to be all of those whom are affiliated with the Fuquay-Varina post.
“The most gratifying part is seeing the whole family come together,” he concludes. “It’s not that The American Legion adopted a highway. It’s that the Legionnaires, Sons, Auxiliary, Riders and Cruisers adopted this stretch of highway that needed to be cleaned up in our town. As a family, we can accomplish anything. When we throw the full might of the American Legion Family behind something, there is nothing we can’t do. ”
Branch of Service Army (2007-2015)
Military job Engineer
American Legion post Post 116, Fuquay-Varina, N.C.
Years in The Legion 3
• District commander (2018-present)
• Post commander (2017-present)
• National 21st Century Ad Hoc Committee (2017-present)
• National Foreign Relations Committee (2017-present)
• Department Internal Affairs Commission (2018-present)
• Department Resolution & Resolutions Assignments Committee (2018-present)