How the Latest VFW Post in a City Shakes Things Up

New Orleans’ latest Foreign Wars veterans post breaks the mold. In a town where there was once a VFW room in every neighborhood, NOLA VFW Post 8973 is the newest in town. Once all but derelict, the post is being revived by its Post 9/11 members, which may require a second branch if it continues to grow.

“A big part of what makes us unique is that our identity as a VFW Post is intertwined with the culture of New Orleans,” says Christopher Cox, retired Commandant of the Navy and VFW Post 8973.

What also makes the position unique is its youth; this energy makes the station one of the most active in the national VFW. Membership quickly grew from a handful of mostly Vietnamese-era members to 318 men and women, nearly all Desert Storm veterans.

The post was created by World War II and Korean War veterans decades ago, but its mission to transition and support veterans remains unchanged. It’s the way they do it that’s remarkable. Laidback is one way to describe New Orleans post. For example, a lack of deployment while serving may not make you a de facto “foreign war veteran”, but you are still welcome to join NOLA VFW.

There are no garrison caps, few uniforms, and many of the old hazy ceremonies and rules have been removed. Instead, members wear NOLA VFW caps, t-shirts, and usually cargo shorts. The post is intentionally modern and progressive in a way that only New Orleans locals can be — no fuss.

An excerpt from a recent email to NOLA VFW members and friends:

“If you’re new to getting a little dirty doing good deeds, I can say with absolute certainty that it will improve your attitude, give you positive memories, and bring back that sense of serving a purpose greater than yourself that we we all remember.. If you want to help send me your t-shirt size before the sun goes down tomorrow.

The relaxation of rules that could discourage young veterans has created an open and cohesive membership ready to support each other and engage in community service. Members can be found loading trucks and delivering food and medical supplies after a storm or other disaster. This is another area where youth and strength come into play. When NOLA VFW uses the recovery trucks to disperse supplies, it seems a small battalion has arrived.

A young former Marine who lives nearby says he was curious when he saw members engaged in what looked like precision military disaster relief. He approached the group, joined in unloading the trucks and is now a member. His partner is also a regular.

Cox says he recognizes that veterans living in other areas of the city are unaware of the former small post and may not even know that the city even has a VFW. To this end, the post extends its reach to miles beyond its borders. Cox’s goal is for all veterans in town to understand that NOLA VFW is their resource. If they need help and support for the transition, members are ready to help them access health care, benefits, and other VA services earned during their service. This includes building ramps for people with disabilities and repairing houses.

At the beginning of May, the post was on the other side of town, in the city’s economically disadvantaged ninth arrondissement. After enlisting the help of a network of local nonprofits and businesses, NOLA VFW spent the day cleaning up the neighborhood and repainting a historic veteran-owned convenience store, a hub in the area. Afterwards, they helped serve meals and enjoyed a barbecue with the residents.

The position also hosts career fairs, networking events, resume seminars, and PTSD awareness assistance. This month, the post hosted a conference between the VA, the Louisiana Department of Veterans Affairs, and other community leaders strengthening the post’s network of veteran-specific initiatives, including employment awareness. through a veterans employment program.

“We’ve had informal success simply by introducing transitioning military members to opportunities made available simply through networking,” Cox says. “A member who recently used his GI Bill and VA Vocational Rehab to earn his Tulane law degree was hired at a local law firm this way. Another member was hired as a gunsmith at a local gun shop.

NOLA VFW is so popular that young Marines and Sailors from the Navy Forces Reserve and Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base New Orleans have shown up to join or participate in activities. Active service members who wish to join or volunteer in community service projects or join a crawfish boil are free to walk through the door at any time. It is a given that the post welcomes LGBTQ. They also welcome spouses and partners of veterans.

The post hosts “First Friday for Women Warriors”, a monthly open house for all female veterans or female family members and partners of veterans.

NOLA VFW membership also includes marching at full power in a camo kilt and helping to pull the barrel in the city’s St. Patrick’s Day and Mardi Gras parades. However, this year they have upped the ante. The post marches in its first Gay Pride Parade through the historic French Quarter – glittering kilts optional. But since members and most military and veterans in New Orleans already participate in the Red Dress Run, Santa’s pub crawls, and a host of other local events, it feels organic.

“Our membership and our leadership foster an environment that belongs to veterans of all genders, races, orientations, religions and ages,” Cox said. “Keeping doors open and answering calls when veterans need help or information is a big part of what makes a post successful. That’s what we do.

Cox encourages all veterans to come to NOLA VFW during its weekly open house on Thursday nights – membership and hats not required.

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