A good public affairs program can have an enormous impact on every activity, operation, and event your chapter and state council is involved in. Whether it be recruiting, fundraising, public speaking, or community events, your visibility and standing in your community is pertinent to your successes. I can only speak from personal experience while creating a new chapter and new state council: Being visible has been fundamental to Utah VVA and AVVA successes.
Chapter 1079, Utah’s newest chapter, started out with twenty-five members. VVA is special; its members are fewer in number but are some of the hardest working and most dedicated veterans this nation could turn out. Much of our work helps modern-day veterans as well. We decided we had to be visible with our actions.
Chapter 1079 adopted the beret, yellow polo shirt, black cargo trousers, and bloused boots as our organizational and honor guard uniform. Our first parade got everyone’s attention. We weren’t in white button-down shirts like other veterans groups, and we were carrying VVA, AVVA, and Commemoration flags. In addition, we have a custom-painted yellow Mustang convertible that has the VVA logo, UH-1E helicopters, and references to the more than 58, 000 KIAs on The Wall. When we talk to people, they immediately say, “Oh, you are the guys and gals in the yellow shirts and the Mustang.”
Our next move was to attend all community events within driving distance. We traveled as far as 150 miles. Now we are asked to attend these events and, in many cases, to lead them.
Then we went to the Hill, home of the Utah State Legislature. The first year—in yellow shirts and berets—we spent hours introducing ourselves to our elected representatives. We talked a lot about our organization and what we were asking for, and let it be known that we were not going away. We made friends and obtained sponsors for legislation, testified before committees, and got our first bill passed, honoring all Vietnam veterans in Utah.
We returned for the next three legislative sessions. Each time we were welcomed. Now, many of our elected folks walk across the room to shake our hands and tell us they are happy that we are there. We are often consulted on veterans’ issues and asked to testify on behalf of—or even against—legislation.
We serve on statewide veterans advisory committees. From Vietnam Veterans Day in Utah to renaming an interstate highway the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Highway, we are five for five in our legislative pursuits. We were even asked to help with a commemorative book and documentary. We were visible and people began to know Vietnam veterans and to understand what we stand for.
A second important ingredient in your public affairs program is your message. Members answering questions about your chapter and the Vietnam War must have consistent answers. Moreover, the message must be correct, informative, and factual. Chapter and state council representatives must be on the same page.
It is good to create answers to the routine questions you get asked about VVA and your chapter. Write some briefing papers and then spend a few minutes going over them in your meetings. That way everyone is on the same page.
Three very good resources are our website, www.vva.org , our national Communications Department, and the 50th Anniversary Commemoration Commission at www.vietnamwar50th.com If you aren’t a partner with the Commission, you should be. It is simple and is beneficial in a multitude of ways. Study how you can better serve veterans with that information.
Many of these resources, such as the Commemorative Pin, are free. Think about how good it feels to have a pin handed to you issued by the Secretary’s Commemoration Commission and be told your service is appreciated.
Finally, when a veteran says, “I was in the service, but I didn’t go to Vietnam, ” ask him when he served. This is important, particularly in our attempts to increase membership. Explain the definition of a Vietnam veteran as defined by the Commemoration Commission and as it pertains to qualifying for membership in VVA. If they don’t qualify for VVA, tell them about AVVA. But don’t be too quick to recommend AVVA to women. Many thousand served worldwide during the Vietnam era—including 7, 500 in country and eight whose names are on The Wall.
You will be amazed by how many veterans feel ignored, disconnected, don’t believe they are Vietnam veterans, or have questions. I receive at least three phone calls a week from veterans asking me if they are Vietnam veterans. Let them know how important their support was to those in country. Once you help them understand, thank them for supporting those who served in country, welcome them home, and recruit them.
Dennis Howland, Chair