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" held 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, 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 Co-Founder and 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. Succeeding Group commanders recognized the value our veteran experience could bring to his soldiers and to those soldiers in training to become Psywarriors. POVA members provided 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. 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 of 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 virtually disappearing.
Rebirth and Growth
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. As promised, President Stoeckert 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:
- Designed and launched this POVA website in January 2017.
- Increased the POVA total "contact" roster from approximately 25 to over 700, with an active member roster of over 400 PSYOP veterans from all US engagements since the Korean War, active and Reserve soldiers, Gold Star families, and a growing number of Allied PSYOP veterans and soldiers.
- Grown Life Membership in POVA from 11 Life Members to over 140 Life Members
- Expanded its outreach to Gold Star families, offering them Life Member status in honor and recognition of their loss
- Published a totally revised newsletter every month since August 2015
- Planned and executed successful Biennial Reunions in Fayetteville, NC from 11-14 August 2016; and in Cleveland, OH from 19-22 July 2018.
- Established dues-free membership for all Active duty and Reserve unit PSYOP soldiers for the entire duration of their military service
- Completed registration as a charitable non-profit company under Michigan law
- Achieved tax exempt status under IRS Section 501c3, thereby allowing POVA to accept tax-deductible charitable donations
- 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
- Renewed close and fraternal relations with the Psychological Operations Association (POA), and began planning collaborative and partnering relations with them to benefit both of our Associations.
- Developed and offered a range of unique and beautiful POVA-branded products including shirts, caps, and Challenge Coins.
What about Tomorrow?
Having recently completed our 17th Biennial Reunion in Cleveland, OH, POVA will now embark on several key initiatives, and early in 2019, begin planning for our 18th Biennial Reunion to be held in Fayetteville, NC, in the summer of 2020. Fayetteville is our Psywarrior "home," and our members voted to return every other Reunion. That is a homecoming we will all value.
POVA will continue its aggressive growth profile, seeking continual expansion of our relationships with all PSYOP and Special Operations organizations. These will include the following:
- Expand POVA's commitment to and engagement with our PSYOP Regiment.
- Finalize and expand POVA's "Speakers Bureau".
- Create and implement a POVA Operations Manual to assure continuity in our various activities, financial management, and general business actions.
- Establish multiple POVA chapters across the United States.
- Expand member recruitment and engagement with fellow Psywarrior veterans, Allied Psywarrior veterans.
- Establish and expand relations with the new US Marine Corps PSYOP function being created in Quantico, VA.