Monroe’s Veterans of Foreign Wars Post No. 7511 has its sights set on building membership during 2017, and is starting the new year with a pancake breakfast fundraiser to kick things off.

The community pancake breakfast takes place 8-11 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 7, at the Monroe Independent Order of Odd Fellows (I.O.O.F) Lodge, at 610 S. Lewis St. in Monroe.

The menu features pancakes with all the trimmings, juice, coffee and other side dishes. The suggested donation for breakfast is $5, while veterans and kids under 12 eat free. In addition to helping raise money, the event celebrates the post’s 49th anniversary and will include an awards ceremony honoring a local Monroe High School graduate for exemplary patriotism. 

Post members Shane Williams and Nick Jacobson have been working to spread the word about the breakfast and are excited about helping to grow the post. Williams said the post is led by a core group of dedicated individuals, but membership has dwindled over the years.

As a kid growing up in Monroe, Williams recalls the VFW being active in the community and having a vibrant presence in the Monroe Fair Days Parade. It was a presence that, until recently, had gone by the wayside, Williams said.

“We actually marched in this last parade for the first time in years — the VFW 7511 was back in action in the parade again,” he said. “We’re working hard to try to recruit younger combat veterans right now.”

“The best part about that parade is we had a World War II veteran who got to ride with us in the World War II-era vehicle that we had,” Jacobson added. “That was a really huge plus.”

He and Jacobson are working to bridge the gap between Vietnam and Korean War-era veterans and Persian Gulf War-era veterans by encouraging younger veterans to join. 

Founded in 1899 and chartered by Congress in 1936, the VFW is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to veteran advocacy. Its mission is to foster camaraderie among veterans while serving veterans, the military and the community. To be eligible for VFW membership, a veteran must have served in an overseas conflict. Eligibility is typically confirmed by review of the veteran’s DD214, the document issued when a military service member is discharged from active duty.

Monroe Post No. 7511 meets at 7 p.m. the second Thursday of every month at the I.O.O.F. Lodge.

Jacobson and Williams are combat veterans who served in Army infantry divisions. Williams served as an infantryman in the third infantry division from 1997-2004, deploying to Africa, Iraq and Kuwait during that time. The thing he misses most about military service is the close relationships and camaraderie he experienced with other service members. 

“That was probably the best part and what I miss the most — is having that camaraderie,” Williams said.

But that camaraderie is something he’s regained through his membership in the VFW. Williams has been a member of the VFW since 2005, initially recruited by Gold Bar VFW Post No. 9417 at the Sultan Summer Shindig event. At the time, his work schedule prevented him from attending the meetings, although he maintained his membership because he wanted to support the VFW. He has since purchased a home in Monroe, which inspired him to dedicate himself to the Monroe post.

Williams said he suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result of his service, and the VFW can be an effective outlet.  

“I feel that the VFW helps me. It’s almost like a therapy session in a sense, because I go and I get around people that understand me. They have similar experiences,” Williams said. “I think that our veterans that are hurting right now need that — they just don’t know that it’s available.”

Jacobson served in the Army infantry division as a commissioned officer from 2010-15. He deployed to the Horn of Panjwayi region of Afghanistan, which, at the time, was considered one of the most dangerous regions due to prolific improvised explosive devices (IEDs). After his deployment, he became second in command of an infantry rifle company stationed at Fort Lewis.

Jacobson suffered a serious back injury while on deployment in Afghanistan, he said. After his honorable discharge from service, it took him around 18 months to learn to walk without using a cane. It was Williams who encouraged him to join the VFW. 

“He tricked me into joining, but I’m glad he did,” Jacobson said. “It really is a group about camaraderie and how can we still continue our service, not only to other veterans but also our community.”

Williams and Jacobson have used their military backgrounds as an asset in their careers, both working for the Bellevue School District in the security division. They are making a difference there, Jacobson said, helping to change the way the district approaches student safety through teaching, mentoring and training.

“We train faculty and principals how to survive active shooter events. That’s one of our big ones,” Williams said. “We give them survival options. The district lets us use our military backgrounds to educate their faculty. It’s unfortunate we have to do that but, in a world like today, we do.”

In their off time, they are working together to help rebuild VFW Post 7511 by establishing an active presence on social media and planning community events. Funds raised during the pancake breakfast will be put toward those efforts, Williams said. 

For more information about VFW Post 7511, visit facebook.com/vfwpost7511.