Iraq war vet Adam Flood takes La Crosse County VFW leadership role
La Crosse Tribune, Wis.
LA CROSSE, Wis. — Adam Flood doesn’t fit the stereotype of a VFW post commander.
After all, many of the members of the veterans’ group had retired before he even joined the service.
Flood, 32, is part of a new generation of military veterans stepping forward to lead organizations long in the hands of those who served in long-ago wars. Named La Crosse County’s veterans services officer last month, a job held for nearly two decades by a Vietnam-era vet, Flood also heads the local VFW.
“We welcome new blood,” said Bob Heilman, a World War II vet who is chairman of the house committee at Post 1530 in La Crosse and one of a handful of older veterans who’ve kept the place going over the years.
“We’re just happy to have several young veterans coming up in our system here. We do need that. There’s coming a day when I’m not going to be able to come down here.”
A native of Medford, Wis., Flood joined the Marines eight months after graduating high school in 2000. He can’t say exactly why.
“Everyone’s got a story of why they joined,” Flood said. “I don’t have that …. I’m ever grateful, but I really don’t know why I joined.”
He was put in supply chain management and stationed in Japan before eventually serving in Iraq.
Flood said he considered making a career of the service but didn’t like being away from his siblings, nieces and nephews. He decided on school instead, choosing the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, where he studied business management with an international emphasis.
“I wanted to continue traveling the world,” he said.
While in school, Flood worked in the county’s veterans services office through a federal program that offered work-study opportunities for military veterans.
After graduating in 2009, he went to work for World Services of La Crosse, a nonprofit consulting firm that works to improve the quality of life in emerging democracies, and later for Logistics Health Inc., where he negotiated contracts with health care organizations to provide services for National Guard and Reserve troops.
In 2010, Flood accompanied Ben Tippetts, an Army veteran and fellow UW-L student, to a VFW meeting.
Flood said he was vaguely aware of the organization but wanted to see what it was doing in the community.
Tippetts, who is 29 and served in Iraq in 2004, said he was hoping to bring in someone else close to his age.
“When I started going there, there were very few younger veterans,” he said. “The average age down there is about 80. The goal is to get new blood in there and keep the organization going.”
Flood soon found himself nominated for junior commander.
“I was probably a little reluctant not knowing what I was getting into,” he said. “As I was able to take on a few other things I saw different ways I might be able to impact the VFW.”
In June, he took over as commander of Post 1530.
“It’s time for somebody else to help carry the load,” he said.
Flood said part of the challenge of attracting new members is changing the view of an organization that has come to be primarily associated with World War II veterans.
Statewide, VFW membership declined about 16 percent this year, a long-term trend for the organization. Post 1530 lost 124 members last year while picking up just three new ones.
The problem dates back to the 1970s, when returning Vietnam veterans didn’t join at the rates their fathers and grandfathers had.
“They weren’t welcomed home,” said Renee Simpson, department commander for the Wisconsin VFW. “Unfortunately that was also reflected by previous veterans.”
Now that they’re entering retirement, Flood said some of those Vietnam veterans are starting to get active. But he’s also trying to attract fellow veterans of the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Simpson, the youngest person to lead the state organization, said the VFW’s greatest challenge is educating veterans — and the public — about the nation’s oldest and largest combat veterans’ organization, whose mission is both providing camaraderie and lobbying Congress on behalf of vets.
“My thought process was it’s just a bunch of old guys sitting around drinking beer and telling war stories,” she said. “It’s a stereotype, and I get that.”
To change that, Flood is trying to make his post more relevant to young vets.
He installed wireless internet to attract student veterans and a big-screen TV for watching weekend football games. He’s hosted open houses and karaoke nights and started using email to communicate with members. The group even has a Facebook page.
Heilman said the new generation of veterans tend to do more with their families, and that’s changing the dynamic at the post.
“Now it’s more family-style thinking,” Heilman said. “Which is a good thing, really. We haven’t seen young kids — little young people here in years.”
Flood took over last month for Jim Gausmann, who retired in August after 20 years as a VSO, the last 19 in La Crosse County.
“I felt it was important — I’m a Vietnam era guy — to hire somebody younger,” Gausmann said, noting the growing ranks of veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“We have a lot of current conflict veterans. The busiest 10 years of my career have been since we invaded Iraq in ’03.“
Flood said his new role as La Crosse County’s veteran’s services officer — the primary resource for helping the county’s approximately 10,000 veterans get health and education benefits — affords him the chance to combine his professional skills with his personal connection with veterans.
“Working with vets is a unique thing,” he said. “There are times when vets meet and just interact on a different stage.”
Flood has a hard time explaining how he got to his new job, but he seems to think it’s a fit.
“Like why I joined the Marine Corps — I don’t know, but my life led me there,” he said. “As long as I can still help a veteran, I don’t see any reason to be in anything else.”