To commemorate the formation of the new Fleet Reserve Association Branch 232 of Cape May, active-duty and retired military personnel gathered Sept. 10 at the U.S. Coast Guard Training Center in Cape May.
The FRA is a nonprofit that has been a leading voice for enlisted sea service personnel in Washington, D.C., since 1924. The organization presents the issues of current and former members of the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard before Congress.
The FRA Branch 232 of Cape May was active until about 15 years ago when the branch lost membership due to the relocation, retirement or death of many of the members. These circumstances eventually led to branch to dissolve.
Retired Chief Petty Officer of the Navy, Robert Campbell, of Mays Landing, said it was his idea to re-form Branch 232 after he was made president of his branch - Branch 13 - in Mays Landing.
"I started going down (to Cape May), and I started meeting all the old chiefs and started talking to the old guys. I said, 'I think it would be great to start the new branch,'" Campbell said. "We decided that we would work on creating a reconstituted branch. We had to build it from ground up."
The entire process took about nine months to finalize, but Campbell and his colleagues' hard work paid off when, six weeks ago, the national organization finally approved the request to re-form the branch. Campbell said he recruited 30 enlisted and retired service members to be active members in the revived branch.
At the Institution and Installation Ceremony of Branch 232, state Sen. Jeff Van Drew, D-Cape May, Cumblerland, Atlantic, and Cape May Mayor Edward Mahaney were both present along with the national FRA President Shipmate Mark Kilgore to support the reformulation of the branch.
David Munday, the regional FRA president for the Northeast and Whiting resident, blames a lot of the dwindling FRA membership on general developments of programs that benefit the enlisted or veterans.
"In the past 15 years, because of Tricare, a lot of people did drop out," Munday said. "We used to sponsor a supplemental insurance program, but when (Tricare) came about, a lot of people just dropped out. The membership right now is between 61,000 and 64,000 nationally."
Campbell, who is part of the FRA national membership committee, said he would estimate the last decade's membership numbers at about 70,000.
The new members of FRA Branch 232 are not viewing decreasing membership numbers as something negative, however. Campbell said the branch already has adopted a program called "Sailor of the Quarter" where an outstanding service member is selected for recognition every three months.
The branch plans to erect a memorial honoring the enlisted Coast Guard men and women who lost their lives in the line of duty. The Coast Guard Memorial Committee plans to have the monument erected at the Coast Guard Training Center in Cape May by 2015.
FRA branches are typically active in their respective communities. Munday said that branches can support a variety of community-service projects.
"Within the community we do community service, depending on where the branch is at and what they want to do," he said. "We do highway cleanups, and there is a patriotism theme every year."
The patriotism theme, Munday said, is an essay that students in grades 7-12 can write on various topics regarding patriotism, such as, "What does my flag mean to me." Essays can be submitted at regional and national levels, and winning essays' authors are awarded scholarship money.
"I'm very happy in doing this work because we do outstanding work for the veteran community," Campbell said.
See fra.org for more information.
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