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'We're not forgetting you'

Commander Ken Kraft and Lake Oswego's VFW post celebrate a first year spent reaching out to veterans

SUBMITTED PHOTO - A big barbecue on the Fourth of July was used to celebrate a remarkable first year for Lake Oswego VFW Post 12140. Manning the grill are Sean Ohara (left) and Tony Allen.“We’re All-American, we’re All-State, we’re on top.”

That’s how Commander Ken Kraft describes a remarkable first year for Lake Oswego’s VFW Post 12140, which celebrated its anniversary earlier this month with a barbecue in George Rogers Park.

Kraft, a former U.S. Army captain, launched the post in 2014 with two goals: to transform the lives of veterans in Lake Oswego, and to have a big impact on the overall community. He approached both with all of the drive and determination of a combat leader, and the results have been impressive.

The post has seen a boom in membership, the development of innovative programs that reach out to veterans who had not been reached before, the establishment of a firm foundation in Lake Oswego and an increasingly prominent presence on state and national levels.

And Kraft isn’t even close to accomplishing everything he wants to do.

“I knew this would happen going into it,” he says. “Next year, we’re going to repeat.”

Under Kraft’s leadership, the VFW post has collected kits for homeless veterans, containing everything from personal hygiene supplies to sleeping bags and blankets. Kraft is also stepping up the post’s outreach to the many elder veterans in Lake Oswego, installing a big-screen television in the Adult Community Center as a way of bringing the post right to the veterans.

“I thought, ‘Let’s go to them and make it easy,’” Kraft says. “We want them to be part of our post as long as they can.”

SUBMITTED PHOTO - Commander Ken Kraft is flanked by VFW members Donald Reed (left) and Juan Palacios during the posts first-anniversary barbecue this month.A VFW women’s auxiliary, which already has 90 members, was started in July, and Kraft intends to start a VFW scouting program for youth that will be similar to the Boy Scouts. It’s such a good and simple idea, Kraft says, “that I don’t see how it didn’t happen before.”

In Salem, Kraft and his fellow vets are pushing the Oregon Legislature to pass a veterans lottery bill, which would channel millions of dollars toward the care of veterans struggling with joblessness, homelessness and ill health. For Kraft, the help cannot arrive too quickly.

“The suicide rate of veterans (an average of 22 every day, according to a recent study by the Department of Veteran Affairs) is ridiculous,” he says. But what really bothers him is the rate of MST — military sexual trauma.

“This absolutely blows me away,” he says. “I can’t believe our NCOs and officers are not getting rid of this. I have an obligation to kids to not let this happen.”

While Kraft will focus some of his energy on national issues, his biggest concern is helping local veterans. In August, the post on Second Street in downtown Lake Oswego will be humming: a regular meeting on the first Thursday of the month; a community dinner and programs for kids in the second week; an officers meeting the following week; and then “Cooties,” the moniker used when veterans visit sick and wounded vets in hospitals.

Kraft also has one more target on his outreach list: people who hate war.

“Even though they hate war, there are many things we can agree on. There are so many things they can help us with,” he says. “The homeless, jobs, kids and making sure that the older vets are not forgotten.”

As impressive as Kraft’s work with veterans has been, it is even more impressive in light of the terrible injuries he suffered in combat while serving in Iraq. Even now he is scheduled for an operation that will remove more of one leg.

“I lost both knees 10 years ago,” Kraft says. “I’ve been fighting infections ever since.”

And he will keep on fighting, he says, not only for himself but also for the other men and women who served in combat. He says he is very grateful for the help the VFW post has received from the people of Lake Oswego.

“I can’t say enough about how impressed and how thankful I am for this community,” Kraft says. “We sold $16,000 worth of poppies here.”

But there is still a lot of work to do, he says.

“There are 33,000 veterans in Clackamas County,” Kraft says. “There are 1,200 to 1,700 homeless veterans. Eighteen percent of them are under 18 years old.”

The message Lake Oswego’s VFW post will bring to those men and women is a simple one, he says:

“We’re not forgetting you.”

Lake Oswego VFW Post 12140 meets at the Waluga Masonic Lodge at 417 Second St. For more information, visit the post’s Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/lovfwpost12140.

Contact Cliff Newell at 503-636-1281 ext. 105 or cnewell@lakeoswegoreview.com.


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