Special Forces Association Launches Operation to Attract Younger Members

With an aging membership and an eye on its future, the Special Forces Association is looking to attract more current military members. Changes to its annual conference, being held this week, are part of that effort.

It’s a common problem for associations: How can you attract younger members and ensure the future of your organization? Perhaps no groups understand those struggles more than military and veterans organizations.

Just last week, Associations Now reported on the Normandy Veterans Association, which hosted its 70th and final D-Day commemoration in France before the organization shuts down later this year because of a dwindling number of members.

One military organization that is actively making changes in hopes of avoiding a similar fate is the Special Forces Association, which serves as the voice of current and veteran members of the United States Army Special Forces.

SFA’s annual convention, being held this week in Columbia, South Carolina, is typically a time when old pals to come together and share war stories while touring historical sites and museums.

“We’re just like any other group of veterans,” said SFA President Jack Tobin, a retired colonel who served in Vietnam. “I’m closer with some of these guys than I am with some of my own family members, and this’ll be maybe the one time a year we get to come together.”

But as the years went by, Tobin said, the group began to realize that its members weren’t getting any younger. So, SFA decided it was time to make some changes to attract a more recent, and current, Green Berets.

To start, SFA leaders had to understand how the makeup of the Special Forces had changed since they were in active military service, Tobin said.

“When I came through and joined SF in ’68, we were all single guys going to Vietnam, very few of whom were married. That’s not today’s Special Forces,” he said. “Today, most of them are married, and they have families. So, we first wanted to make the conference more attractive for them to come and bring their families.”  SFA added children’s activities and shopping trips for family members.

For current Green Berets, SFA aimed to add value to the conference by inviting current and former Special Forces leaders to speak on a variety of topics, including the future of Special Forces and a look at guerrilla warfare during the Revolutionary War. “You could get a primer in irregular warfare and special operations just by coming to this conference,” said Tobin.

The effort to appeal to younger Green Berets goes beyond the conference. Tobin and other SFA members have stepped up appearances at Special Forces graduations and training programs, and they have reached out to family members as their loved ones are deployed.

“We’re bringing them all in,” Tobin said. “We want to make sure they know that this is their association, too. They’ve learned that rapidly, they appreciate it, and through some of the things we’ve done they’ve seen that we are behind them.”

The driving force behind all of this is to keep SFA going strong well into the future. But for Tobin, the work is more personal.

“Back in 2008, we flew my father out for the reunion of his World War II unit, the 694 Field Artillery, and there were only three of them left,” he said. “Before he got back home, the other two guys had died. My father died in January. Other than the information that I’ve provided to the Institute of Military History in Washington, DC, there’s nobody alive to remember that unit. That will not happen to the Special Forces.”

(via Special Forces Association's website)

Rob Stott

By Rob Stott

Rob Stott is a contributing editor for Associations Now. MORE

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