Originally published June 14, 2012.
When Huntington resident Rodney Funk first joined Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2689 in 1990, it was simply to join the tight-knit family of fellow veterans.
On June 17, Funk will be the new state commander of the VFW, the first person elected to that position from the local post.
A veteran who served during the Cuban missile crisis, Funk says he was drawn to the VFW after learning about its military burial rites team.
"The team conducts the service for any veteran in Huntington County, if requested," he says. "That was the first committee I served on and still do today."
As his interest in the affairs of the VFW grew, he started attending meetings and looking for other opportunities to serve.
"I got excited about what the post was doing and its involvement in the community," Funk says. "I wanted to be a part of that and started serving in other capacities."
In the last 16 years, Funk has held every officer position at the local post level, positions at the district level and all four chair positions at the state level - state surgeon, junior vice president and senior vice president and, finally, state commander.
Each position is a one-year appointment.
"I'm thrilled to be serving and I'm excited about the upcoming year," he adds. "It will be a challenging one including a lot of travel, but it will be fun."
In his new capacity, Funk will oversee the 164 VFW posts in the state of Indiana, which holds over 100,000 members, which includes auxiliary members.
Post 2689 has approximately 600 active members and an additional 350 to 400 men and women who hold auxiliary memberships, Funk notes.
"There is a reason why the process leading up to this position is so long," he says. "As you advance, you gain the training needed to function in this position. Without that training, it can be very overwhelming.
Funk, who has been a real estate associate broker for the last 31 years, says that he will have to cut back on those work hours, as his schedule will be booked.
"Over the next year, I will be traveling to all 164 posts," he says. "That equates to traveling at least five days each week."
His main duty involves ensuring that the posts are functioning properly and according to organizational standards.
"I will be attending all the meetings and my presence there can be anywhere from a few minutes to half a day," Funk explains. "It just depends on how well the post is doing."
Checking record books to ensure that community service projects are properly documented and reported to the state chapter as well as checking membership numbers are just two of his duties, he adds.
"Another thing that we are really pushing right now, is recruiting younger members, especially those servicemen and women who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan," Funk says. "We need to reach this group for multiple reasons."
Funk cites the deaths of older veterans a popular about the post in general is contributing to a decline in membership.
"A lot of people think that the post is just a place where old vets hang out everyday to drink and swap war stories," he says.
"That couldn't be any further from the truth. In fact, over half of the chapters in the state don't have a bar. They meet in church halls or local community halls."
This misconception is one of the reasons why younger veterans don't see the need to join their local post after they return from active duty, Funk adds.
"They also don't understand that all the benefits that we currently have as veterans were fought for by the older guys, and if there is no representation for them in Congress, these benefits could be gone by the time they need them," he says.
"This is one of the issues that I plan to address when I visit each post - we want to know what they are doing to recruit younger members."
Funk adds that military organizations, such as the VFW, always have a strong voice whenever they go to battle with Congress and the group on a whole consists of highly motivated voters.
"When we have something to say, our voice is heard and we need to keep it that way," he says. "We also receive tremendous support from local government."
Locally, Post 2689 supports local baseball, the Boys & Girls Club, Huntington North's Varsity Singers, sponsors an annual essay contest and funds a scholarship program, just to name a few.
"We also support other non-profit organizations, including the American Cancer Society, Love INC and HAT," Funk adds. "We are very active in the community."
In anticipation of his busy year, Funk says Post 2689 has held fund-raisers to assist with his travel expenses.
"I will be traveling with my chief of staff as well as my wife on several of the visits," Funk says. "The local post - my home post - has really been behind me and I appreciate that."
He adds that his goal for this year is no different from the overall goals of past state commanders.
"We just want to the public to know that the VFW is an organization that serves the community and not a veterans' ‘bar-n-grill,'" Funk says. "We support our community, especially youth activities."