After being approved unanimously by her peers, an Iraq war veteran and former combat engineer has been appointed commander of the VFW post in Madera. She is the first woman to hold this position, and, at age 27, is the youngest.
“One of my goals is to reach out to the younger generation,” Velasquez said. “And not just females, but everyone.”
The new commander, Ofelia “Ofy” Velasquez, was voted into her post last month, gaining the confidence of veterans of such conflicts as World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and Operation Desert Storm in order to do so.
Velasquez said that for her it was an honor to be entrusted to such a position by the men and women who, she said, had been mentoring her from the time she first arrived at the VFW Post 1981, 2026 N. Granada Drive, in December 2013.
Velasquez had joined the Army in 2007 after high school, and was assigned to the 5th Engineer Battalion in Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. During her service, she was sent on a 15-month deployment to Iraq.
Following four years of active duty enlistment, Velasquez would serve another four years in the reserves. During that time, she attended Kaplan College in Los Angeles, and in 2013, came to the VFW post in Madera. All the while, she had the other veterans there to mentor her.
“I came in not knowing what I was doing, and they pretty much took me under their wing, to guide me through all these positions,” Velasquez said.
“A lot of the older membership, when you first come around, change is very difficult for them,” said Jim Villanueva, a former U.S. Marine and Gulf War veteran. “But I believe within the last three to five years that has changed. The embrace of the younger generation is definitely on.”
Under her leadership, the VFW has been able to reach out not only to its current members, but to future members as well.
Velasquez said she has lost friends who were veterans to suicide, and believes that lack of support led in part to their deaths.
“Some people say: ‘Oh, we’re just a drinking team,’” said Velasquez. “We do more than just come, hang out, and drink. You see all these PTSD statistics out there, that people commit suicide, and stuff like that because they have no one else to talk to, and this is one way to reach out to them, so they can come out.”
“It’s definitely therapy,” Villanueva said. “It’s therapeutic.”
Velasquez has been appointed to serve as commander for a year. She said she plans to serve only one term before returning to college to earn her bachelor’s degree, and her registration as a nurse.
In the meantime, however, Velasquez intends to continue to reach out to veterans from every branch of the military, and from every conflict, and her efforts seem to be paying off.
The VFW in Madera, Velasquez said, has had some success in bringing in veterans from more recent conflicts, including other women. It is their hope, that as the veterans from the previous generations grow fewer and fewer with the progression of time, that the younger members of the military, from such engagements as Afghanistan and Iraq, can carry on the work of the VFW in their stead.