by Anna Ferraro
Mary Dixon, a Veteran of 23 years in the Illinois Army National Guard is passionate about service and camaraderie. After a lengthy deployment to Afghanistan in 2011, Dixon returned to Morgan County, and realized she wasn’t ready for her service or camaraderie to end. In addition, like many returning Veterans, she was facing struggles with reintegrating back into the civilian culture.
In early 2012, Dixon contacted the local VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) Post #1379 and signed up for membership. She shares, “I was looking for a place where I could have some camaraderie, and could find other individuals who could understand what I’d been through.” Dixon further explained, “I’ve served in the military during a time of relative peace. I’ve also served in the military during 15-plus years of war. Something that interests me is how ready service members are to deploy and serve. Over and over again, I’ve seen them raise their hands, willing to leave their families and go overseas and serve.”
She continued, “Soldiers want to go, and know that their training is for something. Being able to deploy, regardless of how tired and overworked and uncomfortable and far away from your family you are, being able to prove that all your training is worth something. It’s a very fulfilling experience – even when it’s really bad, you’re really grateful to have had the chance to do it.” Back home, there’s an interesting challenge, though. Dixon stated, “One of my biggest challenges is people understanding that I wanted to go and serve. Fellow service members understand that. There’s a desire to deploy, but that doesn’t make it easy.”
A lot of times when Veterans return, it’s hard for their experience to be over – in this case, the culture pushes them to find closure. Closure is not what they need. It’s camaraderie. Today at the VFW, Dixon wants her fellow Veterans to know, “Even when the deployment’s over, the camaraderie is not.”
Since beginning her involvement at the Morgan County VFW over five years ago, Dixon shared, “The core membership there has been nothing but welcoming and wonderful. Just being in an environment where you’re surrounded by other service members, it just makes you feel more comfortable; you’re able to share experiences with them and they understand what you’ve been through.” As she integrated back into civilian culture after her deployment, Dixon stated, “[VFW Post #1379] served as a wonderful community for me.”
On May 8, 2017, Dixon was installed into the commander position at the Morgan County VFW Post #1379. The installment came as a surprise to her. She shared, “I’m definitely the outlier, the youngest active member that attends the meetings and was super involved.”
Now in the commander position, Dixon is interested in working with the other Veterans there to grow membership and do more community outreach. Some of her plans for community outreach include doing some fundraising on the behalf of homeless Veterans – something that’s becoming a bigger and bigger issue. Looking ahead, Dixon stated, “I’ve had a wonderful reception to the organizations of the American Legion and AMVETS – I’m looking forward to doing group things with those wonderful organizations.”
Dixon stated, “The primary mission is to foster camaraderie between Veterans of overseas conflicts and also to be an advocate for all Veterans.” In closing, her message to the service members and Veterans of the community is this: “I want [you] to know that [you] can join us. If [you] need support, or if [you] want to become active and become a part of the organization, we are welcoming and have open arms.”
VFW members meet the second Monday of each month at 7 p.m. To learn more about membership, please call 217-243-6814. Or, to message Commander Mary Dixon directly, visit the Morgan County VFW Facebook page at facebook.com/morgancountyvfwpost1379.