Reaching the next generation of veterans

Robert Munson sees the relationship between Benjamin A. Fuller Post 64 in Pittsburg, Kan., and the Student Veterans Organization at Pittsburg State University as a blessing.

It’s also a relationship he’d love to see at other Legion posts nationwide.

“Those guys there, they’re members of the Legion here too, and they’re always there (to help). It’s a good group of guys," said Munson, the commander of Post 64. "I’d like to see other Legions that have colleges in their town to reach out to see if they can get the student veterans."

“We try to provide new members and keep (the post) active so it doesn’t fall from an attrition rate itself,” said John Bloemer, president of the SVO. “And we’re able to go in there and actually do the muscle work that the older veterans are no longer able to do. I feel like it’s a pretty good relationship.”

Bloemer said the current SVO replaced an earlier iteration that didn’t recruit new members and thus came to an end. He said this iteration started about 2 and a half years ago and has about 30-40 members two weeks into the current semester at Pittsburg State.

Bloemer said the SVO’s mission is to get student veterans more involved in their community — to “keep people out of their basement,” he said.

“When (the student veterans) get out of the military, (they can) find there’s other people that understand them,” Bloemer said.

Bloemer has found that at the Legion.

“I have found, especially with a couple individuals there more than others, that they’ve actually been through similar things, had similar experiences, and are capable to guide me in the way that I should go,” Bloemer said. “Having somebody that has experienced things I have around here is kind of rare, especially somebody that’s been around a little bit more. It’s really helpful.”

The SVO’s mission syncs perfectly with Munson’s goal of keeping Post 64 a key member of the community. That was reflected in the Post’s Community Day event on Labor Day, an invitation to the Pittsburg community to see “what The American Legion can do for them, and what they can do for us.”

Bloemer and other SVO members did their part, joining Munson at the post at 5 a.m. to set up flags and tents. They also set up and oversaw games for the kids, including Nerf guns and ring toss.

“The whole point of today is just to get the community to realize that the veterans have a part in the community,” Bloemer said.

Munson said the Community Day event was first held last year and has grown. Monday’s event included a National Guard inflatable obstacle course, vehicles from the Pittsburg police and fire departments, and a Life Flight helicopter, among other vendors and informational booths.

Those community ties are important.

“When I was (Kansas) department commander, every post that I went to, I brought up the same thing about going to the colleges and reaching out to the firefighters and reaching out to the police department, because there’s a lot of veterans in those departments that nobody thinks about,” Munson said.

“It’s not just a place where old people go,” Bloemer said. “It’s actually a group of people that become a family.”