Reinventing the West Orange VFW

The new commander of the veterans organization is finding ways to draw younger men and women to the post.

Commander Dan Kalagian has plans to take the VFW Post 4305 in a modern direction.
Commander Dan Kalagian has plans to take the VFW Post 4305 in a modern direction.
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At 54, Dan Kalagian sees himself as the bridge spanning the age gap between the World War II veterans and those from post-9/11.

He has been leading West Orange VFW Post 4305 as commander since December and is trying to breathe new life into the 72-year-old organization.

“We are the hidden jewel of Winter Garden,” Kalagian said.

The post, established in Winter Garden in 1945, was a meeting place for veterans returning from foreign wars. It gave them a safe haven to share their experiences and anger and fear free from judgment.

Today, it still offers war veterans a respite, but Kalagian wants to make sure it's a comfortable and inviting place for all generations.

“We want to ensure veterans who served in foreign wars and their families feel welcome no matter what generation they served in,” he said. “What's cool about the post is the great diversity; we have generations serving in leadership roles here.”

Kalagian — an Ocoee resident who was on active duty in the 1980s and later rejoined the military and served in Iraq and at Guantanamo Bay after Sept. 11, 2001 — is the third commander in a year; the last two, Vietnam and Gulf war veterans, relinquished the position because of health concerns.

With a focus on health and wellness, the commander is scheduling yoga sessions and nutrition classes.

The post also is engaging with the community more. Members provide food for two Central Florida veterans' centers on a regular basis, and girl scouts were on the VFW campus recently doing volunteer work.

One of the post members is even looking into starting a boy scout troop there.

With the city of Winter Garden about to embark on a huge redevelopment project along East Plant Street, Kalagian said this was a good time to make major improvements to the interior and exterior of the facility.

“We're trying to be good partners,” he said. “We want to be good neighbors.”

On Memorial Day weekend, Post 4305 is holding a ceremony and barbecue and has invited 100 Wounded Warrior Project alumni and their families.

“It's an opportunity for the Wounded Warrior alumni to meet our veterans here, and we can support each other and make them feel welcome into our community,” Kalagian said.

The community can participate in the May ceremony and meal to welcome the veterans. To do so, call the post home at (201) 430-5839.

The Wounded Warrior Project is a nonprofit organization that offers programs, services and events for veterans wounded in military actions following Sept. 11, 2001. It does not have a facility, but that's where the VFW can benefit these veterans who have served in foreign wars.

Kalagian stresses the importance of connecting the older and younger veterans.

“The sharing of common experiences, even generations apart, is the best part,” he said. “It helps heal the wounds to see people who have gone through similar experiences and they're still here, and they're good.

“World War II veterans passed the torch to the Korean and Vietnam war veterans, and then it got passed to the Gulf War veterans and now the post 9/11 veterans.”

Recently, a young veteran entered the post and sat down in the canteen. He told members he felt at ease there, and he joined the VFW that day. He is now a karaoke regular.

“This canteen is important,” the commander said. “For some, they come just to avoid stuff, but it's also a social environment (where they can) just talk. (They can) be with like-minded people and feel comfortable.

“I'm about building relationships, because that's important,” Kalagian said. “This is an inclusive club for any eligible person. We are not judgmental here. … We want to show who we are and what we bring to the community.”


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