Williamsburg resident Joseph Johnston will tell you that he never intended on working for a veterans organization after he was done serving in the military.
But just one month ago, Johnston was elected to serve as the national commander for the Disabled American Veterans, an organization with more than 1.2 million members.
After serving in the Vietnam and Persian Gulf wars and retiring from the Army, one of the local veterans working for a veterans organization approached Johnston about coming to a meeting.
“The last thing on my mind was being a part of a veterans organization,” Johnston said.
But after a while, Johnston said, he gave in and went to his first meeting in 1992.
“I’ve been an officer at the national or state level ever since,” he said.
Johnston said he progressed through national leadership positions at the DAV until he had enough experience to be elected as national commander, which happened during the DAV National Convention in Florida Aug. 10-13.
Johnston said it was affirming to have all of the DAV members elect him, and to have his family members, many of whom have also served in the military, there to support him.
“It’s fulfilling that the national membership have elected you,” Johnston said. “It’s a lesson in humility to understand that out of hundreds of millions of DAV vets, there have only been 93 national commanders.”
Johnston said being national commander means representing those veterans.
“The responsibility of the position and the need to serve veterans weighs heavily on you,” Johnston said. “It’s all about providing services to veterans that they’ve earned.”
Johnston said he has already begun his duties and will work at the local, state and national level to represent the DAV.
“I have things on my calendar that go all the way up to the end of my term,” Johnston said.
Johnston has many goals he wants to accomplish while he is commander.
He said he wants to visit different veterans medical centers and work to improve the infrastructure at those hospitals.
“We have a whole other generation who will need these services,” Johnston said about the hospitals.
Johnston said he will be supporting veterans initiatives aimed at improving things for women as well as for those suffering from mental health issues.
He said he will spend time in Washington DC speaking with legislators about veterans services.
Johnston said he also wants to spend more time recognizing veterans and the people who support them.
On Sept. 11, Johnston visited the Clermont County Commissioners office and was a part of a ceremony to recognize a local soldier returning home from deployment.
“This is the fun part of my job,” Johnston said about recognizing veterans.
Johnston said he wants to work to grow membership at the DAV.
He said the DAV is really more of a family than an organization.
“We’re not a single person or entity,” Johnston said. “We’re a support system.”
Johnston will serve as national commander for one year. After that, he said not much will change when it comes to his involvement.
“I am a member of the DAV for life,” Johnston said. “After my term I will still be an active member. My whole family feels that way.”