Maria Hamlin, Nutley VFW commander and USAF veteran, recaps her (yet unfinished) time as leader

It has been an honor to serve in a leadership capacity at the Nutley Veterans of Foreign Wars, an organization dedicated to supporting and advocating for the brave men and women who have served the country with honor and courage.

Before assuming this role, I had the distinct privilege of serving our nation in the United States Air Force and as a member of law enforcement. My time in the military was marked by dedication, sacrifice and a steadfast commitment to upholding the values and principles intrinsic to the armed forces.

As an aerospace medical technician, I was privileged to provide critical care and support to needy service members. As a First Sergeant, I was entrusted with ensuring the well-being and morale of those under my command. As an adviser to our commander, I lent my expertise and guidance to essential decision-making processes that impacted the lives of so many.

It was following the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, that I felt the call to serve even more deeply. I deployed overseas to support Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Noble Eagle, fully aware of the sacrifices such a deployment would entail. Leaving behind my young son was undoubtedly one of the most challenging decisions I have ever made. Still, I knew the cause of defending our country and protecting our freedoms was more significant than any one individual.

After more than 26 years of unwavering service, I retired as a Chief Master Sergeant, proud of my contributions and the camaraderie I had built with my fellow servicemembers. The bonds forged in moments of shared hardship and triumph endure for a lifetime.

As Commander of the Nutley VFW, I carry with me the lessons learned from my years in the military – the importance of unity, loyalty and service above self. I have been committed to honoring our veterans, supporting their transition to civilian life, and advocating for the resources and recognition they deserve.

There is something truly special about the bond formed among military veterans. It is an unspoken connection that transcends age, race and background. A deep sense of camaraderie is formed through shared experiences, sacrifice, and a joint mission.

As someone who has served in both the military and law enforcement, I have seen firsthand the challenges veterans face when they return home. Whether it is physical injuries, PTSD or simply adjusting to civilian life, veterans need our support and understanding. That is why I am proud to be a part of an organization like the VFW, which is dedicated to helping them in any way we can.

I am inspired by the dedication and passion of my fellow officers, who come from diverse backgrounds but share a common goal of serving our Veterans with dignity and respect. Together, we have been working tirelessly to provide resources, support, and advocacy for those who have sacrificed so much for our country.

I am grateful for the opportunity to serve our nation’s heroes in this capacity. It is a privilege and an honor that I do not take lightly. I want to reflect on the incredible journey we have been on over the past three years.

When I first set foot in the Nutley VFW, I saw a place needing hope and renewal. And through our shared determination and the support of our community, we have accomplished something remarkable.

Together, we have revitalized our beloved VFW and transformed its facilities, not just for ourselves but for all those who have served and sacrificed for our country. With the help of generous donations, hard work, and unwavering dedication, we have rebuilt our home, gathering place, and sanctuary for Veterans.

The transformation has been awe-inspiring. From installing a new roof to the newly repaved parking lot, from the interior to the exterior, every inch of the Nutley VFW has been touched by the kindness and generosity of those who believe in our mission.

We have created new spaces to honor and remember fallen comrades, by creating a Vietnam reflection wall and adding a POW/MIA table to honor all those service men and women that have never returned home. We’ve provided support and resources to veterans in need, and fostered a sense of camaraderie and unity in our community. The upgrades to our facilities are not just physical improvements — they are a testament to the spirit and resilience of veterans and the unwavering support of our community.

But our work continues beyond the cosmetic enhancements. Our commitment to supporting our Veterans goes beyond the walls of our VFW. We have collected and distributed over 800 pounds of essential items to veterans in need. We have honored servicemembers through ceremonies and events and continued to fight for the benefits and recognition that veterans deserve.

As we look back on our progress, we must also look forward to the future. Our journey is far from over, and much work remains to be done. But with the strength of our community behind us, I do not doubt that we will continue to thrive and grow, standing as a beacon of hope and support for our Veterans and our community.

Thank you to every one of you who has contributed to our success, shared in our vision, and continues to stand by our side. Your support makes our mission possible, and I am grateful beyond words for all that you have done.

Together, we have shown what can be accomplished through unity, determination, and the unwavering support of our community. As we continue on this incredible journey, I am confident that we will achieve even greater heights and continue to make a real and lasting difference in the lives of our veterans, their families and our entire community.

Learn more about the writer ...

Kevin A. Canessa Jr. is the editor of and broadcaster at The Observer, a place where he has served on and off since 2006. He is responsible for the editorial content of the newspaper and website, the production of the e-Newspaper, writing several stories per week (including the weekly editorial), conducting live broadcasts on Facebook Live, including a weekly recap of the news — and much more behind the scenes. Between 2006 and 2008, he introduced the newspaper to its first-ever blog — which included podcasts, audio and video. Originally from Jersey City, Kevin lived in Kearny until 2004, lived in Port St. Lucie. Florida, for four years until February 2016 and in March of that year, he moved back to West Hudson to return to The Observer full time. Click Here to send Kevin an email.