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july/august 2007

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It’s difficult to envision a VVA chapter that is more heavily involved in supporting active-duty troops and their families than Burlington County, Chapter 899 in Bordentown, New Jersey. Under the leadership of Chapter President Michael Engi, First Vice President Curt W. Anderson, Second Vice President Thomas Jellick, Secretary John Leskom, Treasurer Don Mohr, and an active Board of Directors, this central New Jersey chapter, which was formed in 2002, has made the most of the fact that its members live close to two large military installations, Fort Dix and McGuire Air Force Base.

The chapter has made a strong, concerted effort to reach out to military families, their children, and veterans at Dix and McGuire. They have held send-off ceremonies as troops head off to serve in Iraq and other overseas destinations; they have held regular Welcome Home ceremonies for troops coming back to Fort Dix from overseas. “To date,” Engi said, “several thousand soldiers have been met at the door with a vigorous handshake and welcome home.”

That’s just for starters. Working closely with the family support units at Dix and McGuire, the chapter has become a sponsor of the installations’ Hearts Apart programs, in which chapter members sponsor breakfasts, birthdays, and pizza parties for the children and spouses of our deployed military. The chapter also helps sponsor Military Appreciation parties that are held at the chapter’s meeting place, along with a monthly Patriots’ Breakfast for active-duty personnel.

Chapter members who make regular visits to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington also meet with the wounded soldiers of the Medical Replacement Battalion at Ft. Dix. “Our veterans spend time with the troops once a week from 7 p.m. to midnight,” Engi said. “We play cards, shoot pool, watch TV, and sometimes just talk. We bring food and snacks with us that are not usually found in the mess hall, and both sides share a comradeship not found anywhere else but between veterans.”

Chapter leaders say they are proud to live up to VVA’s founding principle, “Never again will one generation of veterans abandon another.” And they know that their efforts are replicated all over the nation by other VVA chapters. “Many chapters are involved in similar causes and initiatives that for one reason or another never get the fanfare they so rightfully deserve,” Chapter 899 Board Member Joe Meheski said. “So, in a way, this mention in The VVA Veteran is also a tribute to those chapters that likewise provide programs and support to our troops and their families.”

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