How does an honored but aging fraternal organization make itself cool and relevant to the MP3 generation?

By not giving them too much work to do, naturally.

“Don't overwhelm them,” Staff Sgt. Louis Karsnia said of troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. “They’re looking for a little bit of freedom, but they are also looking to be asked to do something.”

The 28-year-old Karsnia is commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 612 in Fergus Falls, Minn. The Iraq war veteran runs the 940-member post with help from his officers: Pete Johnson, 25, Dennis Anderson, 23, and Jay Cicysocz, 33, all Minnesota Army National Guardsmen.

Karsnia said other local posts should try to accommodate the needs of their young recruits — not the other way around.

There are six bars in Fergus Falls, population 13,000, and one of them is the VFW. It serves meals and drinks and also raises money from legalized gambling from slot machines and bingo. The post’s oldest member is 93; the youngest just turned 19.

The members sponsor youth baseball and hockey. They arrange for venison and other game food to be brought to the local Veterans Affairs home, where members sit and visit with the residents.

Over time they’ve purchased 1,300 flags that are raised on flagpoles around town during patriotic holidays. On each flagpole is affixed the name of a war veteran.

“We had a ‘welcome home troops’ party in September and over 3,000 people showed up,” Karsnia said.

Don’t tell him young people aren’t interested in joining. Karsnia said that he signed up more than 100 members during his deployments with the Minnesota guard to Bosnia-Herzegovina and Iraq.

“Welcome them in, but also give them their space,” Karsnia said. “All of a sudden you get a couple new members who come to one or two meetings, and the older members in some cases want to push off all the duties on them right away.

“When you go to a new organization and get all the duties, you go away and don’t want to come back.”

For VFW recruiters, Karsnia said, the time to strike is now.

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign-up to receive a daily email of today’s top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign up