At the Henry P. Smith Post #24 American Legion in Rome, David Riley is busy crunching membership numbers.
“We have what’s called a ‘PUFL,’ which is a ‘Paid it for Life’ member. We have our regular membership, we have military post-paid, where there is certain ones in the military where we pay for their dues while they’re in the military,” said Riley, the post’s adjutant.
His post is one of many struggling to get veterans of recent wars to join. The same issue is felt down the road at Utica Post 229, according to the post’s commander, William Sequin.
The American Legion’s website says they have almost two million members, but Sequin says it’s dire to get veterans of newer wars to join Legions.
“If we don’t have members to run the Legion, the Legion will fold. They’ll lose their chapter, their charter and then there will be no American Legion,” Sequin said.
Recruiting newer veterans isn’t easy and has many Legion members scratching their heads about how to appeal to them. The Henry P. Smith Post in Rome is investing in newer technology, and trying to let veterans know about the resources the Legion provides.
“They’ll say, ‘Well, what can you do for me?’, and I always ask, ‘Well, what are you looking for?’. Once I find out what they’re looking for, I know what avenue to go down. So if they’re looking for things for their family, I concentrate on the programs we have for the family,” Riley said.
“It’s more than just a drinking club,” Sequin said. “It’s camaraderie amongst the American soldier [and] veteran.”
It’s unclear why veterans from recent wars aren’t joining the American Legion. Members say they may be busy looking for a job or raising a family. But in chatting with multiple members, it seems there’s a pattern of veterans joining only after several years go by after their involvement in war.
Sequin says sometimes they just need to know a member to be interested.
“I think that once they get into the idea that they know somebody that knows somebody that knows somebody, they’ll finally say, ‘Well, let’s give it a try,”' said Sequin.
Whether it’s through the programs, the community events or the times spent gathering at the post, Riley and Sequin say the best thing the Legion offers is the camaraderie.
According to the American Legion’s website, each post determines its dues, but it’s typically around $40 annually. For more information about joining the American Legion, visit https://www.legion.org/.