VFW commander looking to revitalize veterans support organization

The building with a large sign and a replica cannon on the front lawn might give off an impressive appearance, but to many in the community, the Veterans of Foreign Wars office in Elizabethton barely has anything of note inside, hardly anything more than a bar. To the post’s new commander, however, it could be more; it could be a home.

Andy Wetzel found the VFW while looking for an avenue for his Marine Corps retirement ceremony earlier this year, and after talking with the staff, he decided to join once his retirement was up. The group voted him to the role of commander almost instantly.

“It was scary,” Wetzel said. “I did not know a lot about the operations.”

At its core, the VFW has two main points of focus in regards to its outreach: veterans and the greater community.

Wetzel said the first is paramount.

“We take care of veterans,” he said. “Whatever they need.”

This may come from providing a safe environment to socially interact with other veterans, or providing financial assistance and advice and more.

These two points of focus, he said, sort of dropped off the VFW’s radar several years ago.

“The focus was not on those two things,” he said. “The post experienced a low point. Membership had dropped off tremendously.”

He said the situation got so bad they almost had to sell the building. Their relationship with the community began to deteriorate as a result.

“People believe this is just a bar,” Wetzel said. “It is just a bunch of old guys drinking.”

For the past year or so, however, leadership at the VFW has worked on restoring that relationship with the community, starting with pumping out membership drives and dedicating most of their time getting the building back up to code.

Fundraisers go towards tearing out and replacing the floors, getting proper kitchen equipment and even possibly some exterior work.

“It is a slow process,” he said. “It takes a lot of time. I am not going to change that overnight.”

Wetzel said he foresees the VFW building serving as a venue for members of the community to use, whether it is for weddings, ceremonies or any other kind of special event, just like it used to be in decades past.

“In the ’50s and ’60s, this place was thriving,” he said.

Wetzel has already begun spearheading the second main focus of the VFW, the community, in part by reinstating the Teacher of the Year and other awards just a few weeks ago.

His efforts have found initial success since he took over in September: he said 26 new members joined and the VFW Auxiliary has recruited nine new members since he took the position.

“It is simply about doing the right thing,” Wetzel said. “We have got to show our appreciation for what [veterans] have done for us.”

In the meantime, the VFW is officially a non-profit organization, and Wetzel said they do not receive any government funding, so the community’s support is vital to their success.

Those interested in learning more about the VFW can do so via email at vfw2166@gmail.com. Wetzel said they can also contact David Batchelder with the Veterans Service Office at 423-542-1824.

“I would love to talk to folks,” Wetzel said. “Come by the post and see what we are doing.”

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