By Karen Zautyk
When Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1302 elected its new commander in May, it also made local history. Jennifer M. Long, who was installed in office at the state VFW convention in June, is the first woman to head a veterans’ organization in this area.
And before any chauvinists ask: Yes, she has the credentials. Impressive credentials.
Long served in the U.S. Army for 30 years, retiring in August 2012 with the rank of Sergeant Major. Her last assignment was with the 101st Airborne in Afghanistan, where she spent nine months “in country” and received a Bronze Star.
While there, she was assigned to the French Army as an adviser on Afghan affairs, overseeing the equipping and training of local police and military in anticipation of the transfer of power from the French to Afghan forces.
She also served a combat tour in Iraq in 2008-09, worked security operations at Guantanamo Bay and is a veteran of the Gulf War.
Asked to comment on all that, she simply said, “You do your job.”
It was a job she said she “always wanted to do,” even though it was not something women thought of as a career at the time she entered military service.
And the job she wants to do now is revitalize the Post, recruit new members, work more closely with other vets’ groups, such as the American Legion and the Marine Corps League, and see the Post become more involved in the community at large.
Those are all among the reasons behind the first annual Octoberfest she has organized for this coming Saturday, Oct. 18. It will be held, rain or shine, on Belgrove Drive between Bergen Ave. and Afton St. from noon to 6 p.m.
In addition to all the aforementioned veterans’ groups, participants will include members of the Kearny Police and Fire Departments, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Kearny students of all ages and various civic-minded groups. “We wanted it to be inclusive, to get as many parts of the community as possible involved,” Long said.
There will be raffles and games and food and live entertainment — rock bands, blues bands, etc.
And everything is being provided to Octoberfest gratis.
“That’s the beauty of this, they’ve all donated their time and their talents,” Long said.
And speaking of donations: The primary goal of the event is to raise funds to send care packages to the 900 New Jersey National Guard troops who are deployed around the world. Also, to collect items to fill those packages.
Cash donations will be used to pay the postage, which, Long noted, “is our biggest cost.” According to the N.J. National Guard, it costs about $25 to ship each box overseas. For 900 troops, that’s $22,500.
You can also bring things needed for the packages. Among the suggested items:
• Lip balm
• Moist wipes
• Bug spray – non-aerosol
• Bars of soap
• Small bottles of shampoo
• Deodorant – non-aerosol
•Powdered drink mixes
• Instant oatmeal – individual packets
• Hot chocolate – individual packets
• Small cans of tuna with pop-tops
• Small cans of fruit with pop-tops
• Microwave popcorn – individual bags
•Batteries – all sizes
• Small boxes of cereal
• Small bags of trail mix, peanuts, pretzels
• Books & magazines
There are various websites with care-package info, among them opshoeboxnj.org.
And when Octoberfest is over (we’ll see you there, won’t we?), Long can go back to planning other things. Like continuing to recruit new VFW members.
Post 1302 was once among the biggest in the state, Long said, but “as with all Posts, we’re up against a declining membership. They just age out.”
She added, “Younger veterans want to see more community projects. I’ll try to create such projects to bring in members.”
Then there’s the task of spiffing up the headquarters at 300 Belgrove Dr., a 19th-century structure that, Long noted, had been the administration building for the Old Soldiers’ Home. That takes money, and money is raised via the Post bar and its hall rentals. “It’s like running a business,” the new commander said.
Fortunately, along with her military experience, she has business acumen. She is currently a financial representative with Primary Financial in Fairfield.
If you were to ask her how she manages all this varied responsibility, we’d bet she’d say, “You do your job.”