INDIAN TRAIL, NC – On June 27, Donn Kegel assumed his duties as the newly elected Commander of VFW Post 2423.
A career pilot in the United States Air Force, Colonel Kegel boasts an accomplished military record with over 3850 military flying hours. He accumulated nearly 2000 flying hours as a pilot and pilot instructor deployed to Korea to support reconnaissance operations for unidentified boats entering South Korean waters. As part of his tour of duty, he flew a record-setting 29.5 hour non-stop flight from Hurlburt Field in Florida to Guam in 1979.
Kegel was one of four aircraft commanders who participated in the Iranian Rescue mission in 1980, a feat for which he was recognized by President Carter. Under his command, his Desert Storm squadron received numerous awards, and his gunships were instrumental at stopping the Iraqi army’s only major incursion into Saudi Arabia at the Battle of Khafji. His numerous awards and decorations include the Defense Superior Service Medal, Legion of Merit, Bronze Star, Meritorious Service Medal, Air Medal, Aerial Achievement Medal, and Air Force Commendation Medal.
In the wake of a decorated military career, Kegel prefers to focus on the here and now. “That was a long time ago and I’m not focused on that life these days,” says Kegel. “The VFW Commander position allows me to focus on helping veterans today.”
Founded in 1889, The VFW, or Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, is the nation’s largest and oldest major war veterans organization. Locally and nationally, the volunteer organization focuses on supporting veterans and actively serving the community.
Indian Trail VFW Post 2423 has nearly 400 members and sponsors many activities that raise money to help veterans, including weekly bingo sessions, hall rentals, “Buddy Poppy” flower sales on Memorial Day, and Veterans Day weekends, and an annual raffle. They help disabled veterans by building wheelchair ramps and loaning wheelchairs, walkers, and other medical equipment at no charge. They offer social events for veterans and their families, like a monthly breakfast, BBQs, and holiday parties. Their Honor Guard participates in veteran funeral events, does flag ceremonies at public events, and helps educate elementary school children on flag etiquette.
Kegel joined the VFW as a life member after Desert Storm in 1991. Since then, he has served at three different VFW posts around the country in various officer positions and different committees. In Indian Trail, he ran the Post’s middle school and high school essay programs for several years and currently volunteers as a bingo caller and as the building’s custodian. “We have many moving parts, and it has to run like a well-oiled machine to keep focused on meeting national VFW goals and programs,” says Kegel.
As he assumes command of Post 2423, one key program Kegel wants to emphasize is the prevention of veteran suicides, which occur at an alarming average of twenty-two per day nationally. “We’ve had a number of disabled veterans join our Post that has served in the Middle East and were injured or nearly killed,” says Kegel. “Many of these veterans have a hard time adjusting to civilian life after several tours in these combat zones. It takes a toll on the mind, body, and spirit.”
Kegel believes the interpersonal relationships formed through organizations like the VFW are critical to the prevention of veteran suicides. “I was with a member several weeks ago working on a project at the Post when he received a call from a member of his Guard unit about another member, age 31, who had just committed suicide,” says Kegel. “This got me thinking that a veteran group like the VFW is a social club with members having similar experiences. These like experiences allow you to relate to one another. Since you cannot see what is really happening behind the eyeballs, the interpersonal relationships that can be found in a veterans group may be the best way to help someone. We have plenty of projects and events where someone can connect with a smaller group and perhaps save a life. In addition, we have a Post Service Officer trained to help a veteran get assistance from the VA.”
Another key program Kegel hopes to emphasize in his command of the VFW is military history. His hope is to start a military history forum to help educate local area youth, young adults, and parents on veteran experiences in the military and ultimately to encourage service to our Nation.
“My desire is to have a veteran for each service sit at a table and talk a little bit about their time in the service,” says Kegel. “I will also invite retired senior officers or enlisted members and military historians to participate as a panel member. The public will be invited to the Post on a Saturday with youth, Scouts, JRROTC, young adults, and parents being the primary audience. The concept is to let people know about the skills, organization, and other traits a veteran learned in the service that can be applied to their civilian life after service. As the veteran discusses his experience, it also reflects on military history in terms of the events the veteran may have been exposed to while serving their country. I would hope that some of the youth would consider the military or some type of public service after hearing these stories.”
Kegel notes that there are many veterans groups with varied membership criteria. The VFW is a group for veterans who have served in a combat zone; other groups like the Military Order of the Purple Heart of Disabled American Veterans have limited membership criteria while the American Legion welcomes all veterans. “It is important for veterans to belong to these organizations because their numbers help the national level headquarters to advocate for veterans causes on Capitol Hill and with the Executive Branch of our national government,” says Kegel. “Likewise, state-level VFW leadership is an advocate for veteran’s causes in their state. County governments also fund a Veterans Service Office which we tie into for information and offer assistance with our Honor Guard services. I urge every veteran who has served in a combat zone to check out VFW Post 2423 and get involved in one of our many projects.”