With a goal for the organization to “Be Relevant,” Oregon resident Jason Johns was named State Commander of the Wisconsin Veterans of Foreign Wars last month, and will serve a one-year term through June 2021.
Johns, a veteran of the war in Iraq that began in 2003, is a former Deputy Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs, appointed by former Gov. Scott Walker. He most recently was VFW State Senior Vice Commander; an elected role that serves as an apprenticeship of sorts for the top job.
Johns said the idea of running for the top spot in the state organization was brought up a few years ago by some of his mentors in the VFW, giving him something to think about “long and hard.”
“It is a big commitment of time, and I have a young family and busy career,” he wrote in an email to the Observer last week. “In the end, I felt I had a duty to my fellow veterans to take the experience and passion I have in the veterans’ service organization world and apply it to state office.”
Johns served in the Wisconsin Army National Guard and United States Army Reserves from 1994-2002. In early 2003, he re-enlisted to join his National Guard during its combat tour with the 4th Infantry Division.
Johns has been a VFW member since 2006, was previously commander of Oregon/Brooklyn Post 10272 and led the state legislative advocacy team for many years. He’s an attorney by trade and a partner in the Waunakee-based law firm of West and Dunn, representing veterans with VA disability and compensation claims appeals in front of the VA Board of Veterans Appeals and the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims in Washington, D.C.
As State Commander, Johns’ new duties and responsibilities include helping formulate the annual budget, chairing and appointing members to the dozens of state committees, overseeing various programs, as well as chairing the state convention.
“(It’s) the standard “buck stops here” decisions that will be presented to me to make every day, just like a CEO would at any professional organization,” he said.
Johns said he plans to increase Wisconsin’s Veteran and Military Unmet Needs Program under his tenure. The program provides grants up to $1,500 for veterans and current service members unable to pay for necessities such as rent/mortgage, vehicle payments and medical bills.
“This is a program many veterans are not aware of and I plan to change that,” he said. “It’s a top priority and I hope that when my term as State Commander is over, it has become a widely known and widely utilized flagship program of the Wisconsin VFW.”
As state commander, Johns has also been tasked with providing a vision for members to follow, including working with recruitment volunteers to help connect eligible veterans with the VFW.
“My job is to add a spice of new vision to keep the fire burning hot (and) assure honest to goodness leadership,” he said.
Johns’ slogan for this year is “Be Relevant,” with the goal that each post applies it to “everything they do.”
“Be relevant for the members and they will stay engaged and motivated and be relevant in the community and we will have more awareness of our core values of patriotism, service to others and taking care of each other,” he said.
And as COVID-19 restrictions allow, he said he looks forward to hitting the road to travel to meetings and community events around the state, “logging thousands of miles in my truck and on my Harley.”