New commander, next generation
Among the physical changes being made to uplift the local Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2913 in Patchogue, this year will also mark a change in hands from three-year commander and Vietnam Army veteran George Barrett to Army veteran and member Dave Rogers, a veteran advocate and local artist.
On May 12 at 7 p.m., the official ceremony will take place during the VFW’s annual installation dinner, but actual duties will resume in early June. Though VFW elections take place annually, the commander position is a big commitment and requires a current commander willing and ready to step down and a prospective commander fit for the job, something Rogers has been preparing for as a three-year member and the current senior vice commander of Post 2913, as well as junior vice commander of the Suffolk County Council VFW.
“It’s not just about running the post and meetings, it’s also about community outreach, public speaking engagements, fundraisers and standing up and looking out for veterans,” he said. “I am ready to take the reins. It’s something I’ve wanted. I want to help veterans and I have a lot of projects I want to work on and initiatives I want to start.”
Rogers, 48, a Bosnia, Dessert Storm, World Trade Center and Homeland Security veteran who served from 1990-2005, is well liked around the post and considers himself a bridge between the older generation and their needs and the younger generation, using social media to the post’s advantage. He enlisted at the age of 21, first as a reserve, with plans to earn money for college, but soon fell in love with the military and went to full-time active duty.
“If you asked me back then if I saw myself where I am now, I would say, ‘not in a million years,’” he said, after being medically forced out after breaking his neck during search and rescue at the World Trade Center in 2001. “My life was drastically changed,” he continued, explaining that he soon had no work, struggled to get by and wasn’t receiving his VA benefits until becoming involved with the VFW. “I finally came down to get help and that’s what they did, they got me connected and what I needed.”
As commander he hopes to continue his work with homeless veterans, supporting service dogs for veterans with PTSD and becoming an even more prevalent part of the community.
“I want to be there for guys who are going through what I went through,” he added.
The post, he said, currently has about 127 members, with 15-20 active members. The rest are an aging population of World War II and Korean War veterans in their 80s and 90s. He hopes his outreach will help reach young vets and keep the VFW alive.
Among the 150-200 events participated in and hosted by the VFW, Rogers said they are currently working to replace and restore veterans’ headstones in Patchogue, collect shoes for veterans and toilet paper for homeless shelters, in addition to their involvement with the community for parades and ceremonies.
“Our primary concern is to take care of vets, but it’s also to take care of veteran families and the community,” he continued. As a prominent part of the community, the VFW also offers their post as a hall for community groups, the local chamber and rentals.
“George [Barrett] has done a great job as the commander and he is not going anywhere, so he won’t be missed, he’ll still be here helping out,” said Rogers. “I am excited to see where I can take the post and where we can go in the future.”
Barrett, 71, originally joined the post about 20 years ago and became active about 15 years ago. He is a former Nassau County resident born in Bronx and was drafted into the Army in 1966 at the age of 19. He served during the Vietnam War between 1967 and 1968 before coming back home, taking his high school sweetheart, Nancy, to the World’s Fair in 1968 and marrying her the very next year. The couple currently lives in Holtsville and has three sons and five grandchildren.
“At first it was scary. Let’s face it, guys yelling and cursing is not something you’re used to. But then after a while you get used to it and it becomes a way of life,” he explained of being enlisted straight out of high school. “The military did me a lot of good. It really did. It made me better person and gave me a career.”
During his time in service, Barrett was made into a plumber, which eventually helped him find his way into the plumbers’ union and landed him a job later in life at Stony Brook University as a plumber, where he worked for about 20 years before retiring about nine years ago.
He originally joined the post after being urged by a fellow veteran and church member and was happy he did. During his time as commander, he helped facilitate the addition of new bathrooms and oversaw the recent renovations with the help of Rogers.
Though he says he will really miss being commander, he will still continue his role as the hall rental chairman and looks forward to lending a hand during the renovation of the basement.
“Dave has been ready for this. He is a real Superman around here,” said Barrett, ready to step down. “He’ll do a lot, I know he will.”
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