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November/December Issue

red star bulletThe Veteran Departments : Featured Stories / Letters / President's Message / VVAF Report / Government Relations / Veterans Benefits Update / PTSD Substance Abuse Committee Report / AVVA Report / SHAD/Project 112 Task Force Report / Veterans Against Drugs Task Force Report / Constitution Committee Report / Convention Resolution Report / Healthcare Budget Reform / NamJam / South Korean Veterans / Arts of War / Book Review / Books / Membership Notes / Locator / Reunions / 4 Chaplains /

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By Michael Keating
When the members of Tucson Chapter 106 start talking about NAMJAM, they get excited. Then they get serious. NAMJAM is their premier annual event, the extravaganza that underwrites the chapter’s social and charitable activities.

It’s a big deal. And it’s fun.

Concerts as fund-raisers have had a long and inglorious history in VVA. There haven’t been many successes. NAMJAM is an exception. It’s the little train that could. This October was Chapter 106’s “19th annual patriotic event and benefit.”
They’ve had plenty of time to make mistakes. And to learn from them. Early NAMJAMs were full of high expectations, name acts, lots of glitz. And thousands of dollars in losses, according to “Sarge” Rodriguez, the 2006 NAMJAM director.
“Now it’s handled with military precision,” said Rodriguez. Precision is important, but in talking to the men and women associated with Chapter 106, it is clear they’ve also given NAMJAM a lot of thought. They know what they want it to be and they know what it can’t be.

Rodriguez put together a battle plan, a seven-page document that covers budget, strategy, and division of labor and responsibilities. It talks about the vision of NAMJAM as a “high-energy theme fund-raiser and benefit.” In many ways, Chapter 106 planned an extravagant picnic for 7,000 of its closest friends.
In order to pull off this enormous task, Rodriguez involved nearly the entire chapter. Every army has its officers and NAMJAM is no exception.

Director of Entertainment, Eleanor Apodoca. Working with stage manager D.J. Bear, a former Marine and member of AVVA, Apodoca assembles the entertainment. There are no big name acts at NAMJAM. In fact, there are no paid performers. The music evokes the Sixties and Seventies, so the theme is classic rock and Motown, with an increasingly strong Latin participation.

Tucson has a lot of bands. While NAMJAM doesn’t offer these musicians money, it does give them exposure and a venue in which to perform. Because NAMJAM has a track record, bands audition to perform. The director has a tough job listening to all that good music. And because of the rich cultural and ethnic mix in Tucson—and the reputation of the event—the musical gumbo at NAMJAM gets tastier and spicier each year.

Director of Human Resources, Wil Taylor. The volunteers are the heart of NAMJAM. They can make or break the event. The battle plan stresses that “NAMJAM volunteers must provide a can-do attitude for all its guests. Without enthusiastic and knowledgeable volunteers, this venue cannot succeed in achieving its goals.”
Taylor selects the volunteers and he trains them. Although at past concerts there have been as many as 200 volunteers, NAMJAM Director Rodriguez said the magic number is 120. “It’s a military operation and we plan accordingly,” he said. “Everyone has their assigned tasks.” This year, for the first time, formal job descriptions help volunteers understand their tasks.

Rodriguez adds that this is NAMJAM’s first year at Kennedy Fiesta Regional Park. It’s a whole new story. The chapter had faced problems at the old site, not least of which was the lack of parking. Kennedy Park is a far better site with many permanent amenities.

The most complicated job is assembling the museum.
Museum Curator, Bill Fort. Over the years, Chapter 106 has collected and maintained the Deborah Fahnestock Traveling Vietnam Historical Museum and Memorial. It’s a huge collection of Vietnam-era artifacts, all neatly packed in a trailer.

For NAMJAM (and other special occasions) everything is unpacked and put on display. And, as seems to be the case with everything associated with NAMJAM, the logistics have all been worked out in advance. The contents of Box 1 go to Space 1, Box 2 to Space 2.

NAMJAM is a party and a picnic, but it’s more. The museum gives resonance and life to the Vietnam War experience. Additionally, the day begins with a Native American blessing, the Yellow Horse Drummers, and a presentation of the colors. This is an event designed for veterans, their families, and friends.

Director of Refreshments, Tony Rodriguez. But it’s still a party. A big party. Tony Rodriguez is in charge of getting plenty of water and sodas. Yeah, right. His main job is to stock up on beer.

Plenty of beer. Last year Golden Eagle Distributors donated 50 kegs. Each keg holds 120 16-ounce cups of beer. That’s a lot of beer and a lot of money. One year, they ran out of beer and faced some mighty disgruntled ticket-holders. Luckily, a few extra kegs were rushed to the site.

There’s no admission to NAMJAM. Parking is free. The primary source of revenue is beverage sales. Anticipated sales this year are $16,000. Last year they sold $15,000 worth of beer, plus $3,000 of food, $5,000 of NAMJAM t-shirts and other product sales, $3,000 in raffle tickets, $500 in donations at the entrances, and $300 in museum donations. In addition, $2,000 was generated in renting concession vendor stands, $250 from sponsorships, $250 from contributions, and $250 from children’s activities.

Director of NAMJAM Security, Gerard Burume. You’d think rowdiness would be a problem with all that beer. Not so. Burume has 20-25 people drawn from a pool of volunteers plus his own people, including six black belts.

Director of Parks and Recreation, Paul Hetrick. All these activities and functions are channeled through Hetrick, who coordinates all the park activities, all the booths, all the set up, all the concession stands.

He’s happy with the new location and is pleased with the built-in concession stands with plumbing and electricity. Fewer tents to erect; fewer extension cords. His job isn’t confined to coordination; it’s also aesthetics. The general appearance must be clean, open, and eye-pleasing. The public likes it that way, and so does the security staff.

Membership Director, Paul McComb. McComb should be one of the beneficiaries of NAMJAM. His job is to retain current members and recruit more. At NAMJAM, the chapter is on display. The volunteers and the members aren’t just demonstrating they can handle an event, they are showing they are a can-do veterans’ organization.

While the titles may a bit overblown, the camaraderie, the cohesion, and the chain of command are all strong. It’s tough work putting on NAMJAM year after year. They’re not complaining; they love it. But it ain’t easy.

The NAMJAM Director is elected by the chapter members. The management team is especially close. The team members all have long experience with NAMJAM. Some have worked on it since the early 1980s. They talk in shorthand. Planning is nearly year-round. As soon as one concert ends, they hold after-action meetings and start preparing for the next year’s event. Detailed budgets are worked out. This year’s anticipated cost is $20,325. Advertising strategies—strongly emphasizing radio—are debated and adopted.

In addition to the chapter museum that depicts some of the realities of war, there’s a Tent of Heroes, where people can talk to veterans of various wars. There’s an element, too, of a stand down at NAMJAM. Information booths on veterans’ affairs and benefits, veterans’ health care, Agent Orange, POW/MIA information, and homeless veterans programs provide attendees with relevant information. Federal and state government agencies are there, along with private contractors such as Esperanza en Escalante and Comin’ Home.

All this effort results in the “premier, high-energy, thought-provoking event in Tucson”: one day, eleven hours, 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Part patriotism, part picnic, part fund-raiser, NAMJAM also functions “in service to America.”

This year’s theme is “Veterans taking care of veterans.” Chapter 106 means to prove it. When it’s all over, the proceeds go into chapter programs to help disabled and needy veterans. They also help underwrite programs that memorialize deceased veterans and perpetuate concern for America’s POW/MIAs.

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