LANSING, Mich. — Membership of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Department of Michigan elected Ray Lopez as their newest state commander earlier this month at the organization's annual state convention in Kalamazoo, Mich. Lopez, the organization’s first Hispanic American commander, will lead more than 32,000 veterans in advocacy, community involvement and service in Michigan.
Lopez, a Gulf War and Marine Corps veteran, says his newly elected veterans and visual example of the Gulf-War veterans taking the mantle of leadership from the Vietnam veterans, and are moving into more prominent roles in the organization.
Lopez views his fellow Gulf War veterans as a "bridge” that connects Vietnam veterans, who mentored him, and Post 9-11 veterans, as they become a larger part of the Michigan community.
"Gulf War veterans are the bridge in veteran population today,” Lopez said. "I want to be a person who connects the generations of veterans to strengthen our community, so we are united and serving together.”
As he takes command of Michigan’s VFW, Lopez said he is humbled by both the accomplishments and hardships endured by the Vietnam veterans before him. He said these veterans fought for educational and medical benefits, while facing strong ridicule from society for being drafted in a war viewed as unpopular. Lopez believes their perseverance paved the way for the following veteran generations to be successful.
"I’m grateful for trailblazers before me,” the New Boston, Mich., native said. "The Vietnam generation accomplished and endured so much in our organization and our nation; it’s astounding. This year, we are serving those who served.”
The new state-wide leadership role comes to Lopez after 27 years of active involvement within the Michigan VFW. He credits his passion for veteran advocacy to a VFW member who guided him to his earned military benefits and resources during a time of great need in his life.
"That changed my life,” Lopez said. "He didn’t know me, he just related to me as a veteran and wanted to check up on how I was doing. How can I not want to help other veterans the way he helped me? That’s just who we are.”
Since that chance encounter in 1996, Lopez has served veterans in many roles within and outside of the VFW. He also currently holds a position on the Wayne County Michigan Trust Fund Committee and is the Chairman of the Veteran Council for United Auto Workers Local 387.
"I’m so motivated,” he said. "We are still climbing as an organization, and we are going to keep building. We will leave this organization better every year, so the next commander can be even more successful. I want to help strengthen the veteran community locally, statewide, nationally, and in our legislature.”
The VFW Department of Michigan hosts more than 32,000 members, and is supported by over 24,000 Auxiliary members, who are all family members of Michigan's veterans. The organizations provide programs for all ages and legislative advocacy support for all veterans, family members, and communities. Veterans were trained to never leave a service member behind, and this value is embodied in the VFW long after their service ended in uniform.
Article by Sarah Daniels
VFW Department of Michigan Director of Media & Marketing