By Staff Sgt. Kissta DiGregorioSeptember 8, 2016
FORT BRAGG, N.C. -- A group stands in a horseshoe formation around the commander, listening intently as he speaks. Most wear shirts and hats proudly displaying their unit affiliation, but many are almost 50 years removed from their time in the service.
About 70 veterans and family members visited Fort Bragg as part of the Psychological Operations Veterans Association biennial reunion, August 13. During their visit they met with 4th Military Information Support Group leaders and toured the Group's facilities.
POVA, which began as a reunion organization for Vietnam-era PSYOP veterans, has been coordinating these events every two years since 1990. Members travel from all over the country to attend the reunions, the location of which rotates in order to reduce the amount of travel required for out-of-state members. Former Staff Sgt. Chad Spawr, the president of the Association, said this was the Association's third reunion at Fort Bragg, and this is the location that attracts the most members. "The best response is in the Fayetteville area because this is where everything is," Spawr said. That includes current PSYOP Soldiers.
The members were given a guided tour of 4th MISG's Media Operations Center, where they had the opportunity to speak with Soldiers and see their equipment. "We're all kind of jealous," Spawr said, speaking of the Soldiers' capabilities. "We would have killed for what you have here today."
For many members, walking the halls of 4th MISG's facilities was a walk down memory lane. Douglas Elwell worked for 4th MISG as a civilian contractor from 1992 until his retirement in 2011. He has been a member of POVA for about 20 years and still serves as the PSYOP regimental bagpiper. Living in Fayetteville, Elwell said he still has connections to the unit, specifically the MOC, but visiting the facility helps him reminisce on his time with the unit. Elwell has donated several historical items that are now displayed in the MOC and was in front of and behind the camera for many photos that hang on the walls there.
"Through the years I've tried collecting items and taking pictures of events that I was part of," Elwell said. After almost 20 years and more deployments than he can count, he's been a part of many historical PSYOP events. "It's always interesting to see the items or pictures. It brings back memories of who the photo is of or the history of the item."
Even the building brings back memories for Elwell, who was largely involved in the design of the building in the early 2000s, as well as the building's dedication to Lt. Michal Merkel, who was killed in action in Vietnam. "There are a lot of memories wrapped up in the building itself and the people who have visited and the people who have worked here," he said.
The same goes for the battalion buildings. As the group was escorted into the 6th Military Information Support Battalion classroom prior to a capabilities brief from 6th MISB leadership, another veteran said, "I remember this room. It was the first room I was ever in when I got here."
As much as the group enjoys coming back to their roots and getting to see old friends, POVA is now trying to attract younger veterans and current Soldiers into their ranks. The Association already consists of a higher number of veterans who did not serve during Vietnam, and Spawr said they're trying to continue that trend. He said as the number of PSYOP veterans from that generation diminishes, it becomes imperative to bring in younger members to continue on.
"It's important that they have a chance to connect with the veterans before them; that they have a relationship with those they have something in common with," Spawr said. "We want them to see they have a place to go and let them know someone out there is thinking of them. We want them with us."