When POVA was first created
In 1988, five former members of the 6th PSYOP Battalion who had served together in Viet-Nam met for the first time since returning home. These five....H. Duane Yaeger, Jack O'Neil, Chad Spawr, Dick Winner, and Ronald Copeland, spent time reminiscing about their times together during and after the war, but more importantly, decided to create a "reunion association" whose goal would be to find their fellow soldiers from their time in Viet-Nam. They formed the "4th PSYOP Group Viet-Nam Veterans "Mindbenders" Reunion Association" in 1989, and began the process of finding old friends from their days together overseas.
Times of Growth and Challenge
Over the next several years, the "Mindbenders" began holding biennial reunions, each attended by more and more fellow Viet-Nam veterans of the 4th PSYOP Group. As word spread about the group, more veterans came forward, and reunions became larger, including family members and friends. Friendships were rekindled, old sorrows and pains renewed as we learned of the passing of our brethren who had died since returning home. Some of our fellows were suffering from the early onset of symptoms of Agent Orange poisoning, others were experiencing the effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and other degenerative medical conditions. For most of us, the realization came hard that we were no longer the hardened soldiers we had been in our younger years. Still, however, we kept it going for each other.
One of the challenges we faced was our very name. The organization had moved toward a closer relationship with our military roots in today's 4th Psychological Operations Group located at Ft. Bragg, NC. However, one of the Group commanders was adamantly opposed to any association as long as our name included the term "Mindbenders." No matter that this term had been applied to US Army PSYOP by PSYOP itself in Viet-Nam, the term was no longer "politically correct," and any desire on our part for closer relations would be declined unless or until we changed our name. For many "Mindbenders," this was unfathomable, and a small rift grew within the organization. However, under the strong leadership of President Jack O'Neil, the "Mindbenders" became the "PSYOP Veterans Association (POVA)," and relations with the new commander of the 4th PSYOP Group changed almost immediately. The succeeding Group commander recognized the value our veteran experience could bring to his soldiers and to those soldiers in training to become Psywarriors. Over the next several years, POVA members gave countless presentations at Ft. Bragg, teaching practical lessons in PSYOP planning, operational deployments, and PSYOP dissemination techniques in a combat environment. The time spent was valuable for the 4th Group, the soldiers, and for those of us in POVA who were honored to participate.
Decline and Deterioration
In the early 2000's, changes in both Army PSYOP and POVA leadership put both parties on different paths, and relations "cooled" substantially. While there were still strong friendships between many 4th Group leaders and individual POVA members, the organizational ties were damaged by decisions within POVA that put distance between our Association and the Army. Years of hard work building relationships were ignored, messages not returned, and relations with the Army went dormant. At the same time, the Viet-Nam PSYOP population was aging and dying. There had been little effort to "reach out" to younger PSYOP veterans of the many US military engagements since Viet-Nam, and literally hundreds or potential members were never contacted. By the summer of 2015, Biennial Reunions were attended by only a few, newsletters were rare, and virtually no new members had been recruited in many years. POVA was approaching death's door.
Rebirth and Growth
Beginning in the summer of 2015, POVA President Mike Stoeckert met with Life Members Chad Spawr and Rich Hosier in Fayetteville, NC, and discussed POVA's recent history and decline, and committed to support them as needed if they would undertake efforts to relaunch POVA as a vital and future-focused Association. After extensive discussion, Chad and Rich agreed to take on this challenge. To his credit, Mike Stoeckert kept his word and assisted in every way possible to facilitate communication and planning for a revitalization of the Association. As a result of this intense effort since 2015, POVA has achieved excellent results:
- Increased the POVA membership roster from approximately 25 to over 225
- Published a totally revised newsletter every month since August 2015
- Planned and executed a Biennial Reunion in Fayetteville, NC from 11-14 August 2016
- Expanded the ranks of POVA leadership to include multiple members and Life Members from the post-Viet-Nam period, thereby creating potential successors to today's senior leaders.
- Grown Life Membership in POVA from 11 Life Members to over 50 Life Members
- Formalized dues-free membership for all Active duty and Reserve unit PSYOP soldiers for the entire duration of their military service
- Developed and offered a range of unique and beautiful POVA-branded products including shirts, caps, and Challenge Coins.
What about Tomorrow?
POVA is already setting key strategic planning goals for the next two year biennium. The biggest item currently has been a decision to hold our 2018 Biennial Reunion in the area of Cleveland, OH. There are many good reasons to visit Cleveland. Check our website periodically as we will post updates as they occur.
While not finalized yet, our strategic planning goals being considered include the following:
- Creating "virtual" attendance capability for officers and members to "meet" more frequently by computer and cell phone to conduct Association business.
- Renewing and expanding our Gold Star Family Life Member roster, honoring the families of those PSYOP soldiers we have lost in war.
- Further expanding membership across the US by creating POVA chapters in areas with substantial populations of PSYOP soldiers and veterans
- Establishing a philanthropic capability to direct tax-exempt funds to organizations providing important assistance to veterans in need. Rather than be "just another funding source," POVA will work with organizations already doing great work and help them do even more of the work they do so well.