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BAUMHOLDER, Germany — More than 200 soldiers, most carrying plates of barbecue, mosied around the local Veterans of Foreign Wars building, eating ribs and casually learning about the work of Post No.2566.

The “Meet the VFW” day was the latest effort by Baumholder’s post leaders to stir the interest of young soldiers, who make up the core of the garrison.

“Half the guys didn’t even know this was here,” said Spc. Josh Butler, one of the newer members of the veterans organization. Butler, 25, joined the VFW in Baumholder in November, right after his return from Iraq.

“It’s been well worth it,” Butler said.

On Friday, Butler brought a friend to the open house for lunch and to learn about the perks of membership, such as help with securing government benefits for veterans.

In Baumholder, VFW post leaders have been making a concerted effort in recent months to reach out to younger soldiers. Earlier this year, the VFW moved its headquarters from a Baumholder outpost to the heart of the garrison near the movie theater and fast-food restaurants. With the new office — equipped with a kitchen, game room and lounge area — leaders are hoping to boost membership and involvement.

Every Friday night, the VFW now opens up the building to give soldiers an alternative to Baumholder’s boozy downtown hangouts, where fights are routine.

Many of the soldiers in Baumholder aren’t yet eligible to be VFW members. But they will be soon. The 1st Armored Division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team, based out of Baumholder, deploys for Iraq in November.

On Friday, post leaders served up the barbecue, and soldiers came in droves.

The purpose wasn’t about getting people signed up, but about increasing awareness, said John Neilson, the VFW’s European commander.

“Today’s event was to let the soldiers know we’re here,” added Jeff Morrison, newly elected commander of the Baumholder post. “We’ve had an excellent turnout.”

Nonetheless, about 10 soldiers signed up for lifetime memberships through the course of the day, noted Morrison.

Spc. Craig Lydon, 25, was among those who joined.

“So what do I do, just wait for my card in the mail?” Lydon asked.

“Yup,” said Morrison.

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John covers U.S. military activities across Europe and Africa. Based in Stuttgart, Germany, he previously worked for newspapers in New Jersey, North Carolina and Maryland. He is a graduate of the University of Delaware.

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