CARLSBAD ― After five years of declining membership, the American Legion Post 7 in Carlsbad said it has been working to entice area veterans back into the organization.
Frank Sapien, commander of Post 7 since 2001, said the local membership pool was impacted by the pandemic which forced the temporary closure of this post and many others across the nation, driving an already declining membership down by more than half since 2019.
“It was pretty hard because of COVID,” Sapien said. “We had quite a few members lost because we closed down. Now, retention is pretty low. We used to have about 300 members.”
The post has seen a steady decline in membership since 2019, according to data from the American Legion Department of New Mexico website.
According to the website, the post ended 2022 with 244 members. In 2021, the post boasted 231 members, and it had 277 members in 2020. In 2019, the post had 298 members.
With a 2023 goal of reaching 242 members, the post now boasts about 130 members, Sapien said.
But reaching active military members and younger veterans – both of which are eligible for membership – has been difficult, Sapien said. Word of mouth has helped, but Sapien said the post’s officers are working to improve its recruitment strategy.
According to the New Mexico Veterans Department, Eddy County is home to more than 3,500 veterans.
If the Legion can attract those veterans, Sapien said the rewards for the community would be immense.
The Legion annually provides about $19,000 in scholarships to Carlsbad and Loving students funded by proceeds from gaming machines inside the post. It also provides scholarships to Boy’s State.
Among its services to veterans, the Post provided free meals, counseling and resources.
Membership dues – $40 a year – are used to support the state and national organizations. The bar located within the post, Sapien said, provides some revenue.
Sapien said the post is in an “okay” financial position with operating costs for the post limited to building maintenance and utilities.
“But we could always use more members,” Sapien said, as much of its revenue generation is tied to the number of members the Post has.
The American Legion was established as a nonprofit organization focused on U.S. war veteran services. It as founded March 15, 1919 in France by offices and men of the American Expeditionary Forces and charted by Congress in 1919, according to the organization’s website.
Post 7 located at 2605 Legion St. in Carlsbad, was named for Bryan Mudgett, a World War I veteran who received the Distinguished Service Cross in 1918 and and TJ Treviño, a Vietnam veteran with the 31st Combat Engineer and recipient of three Purple Hearts and four Bronze Service Stars.
Jessica Onsurez can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @JussGREAT.