When members of the American Legion Post 10 sought to establish an annual event to honor veterans, they found financial support from area defense contractors, including BAE Systems.
That support was on display recently when a handful of BAE Systems employees joined the Greater Manassas Veterans Day Parade route in Manassas to celebrate the contributions of veterans who served in the Vietnam War. The event, which drew about 6,500 people, included hundreds of Vietnam veterans from the Washington region who served in the Korean contingency and the Army of the Republic of Vietnam who fought alongside U.S. troops.
Among the participants was the BAE technician Don Rouzer, who served 18 months in Scotland during his service in the Navy in the 1980s.
“When I was stationed in Scotland for 18 months, USO had a facility where we could make free calls home. That really meant a lot,” said Rouzer, saying the nurturing he received then inspired him to get involved with the parade so he could offer support to veterans. He and his colleagues in the Manassas office pick up toys and supplies each week from the local Dollar Tree, which will be donated to military families.
On display were Vietnam-era military vehicles, weapons, military dress and photos. Vietnamese food and barbecue sizzled while choirs sang hymns in the Old Town Manassas pavilion.
When the American Legion first organized the parade in 2008, it looked in the phone directory under defense contractors and sent letters to them asking for support. Two responded: BAE Systems and Lockheed Martin.
“Our partnership with BAE Systems was unique because they publicized us in a newsletter that goes out to their employees and 10 of their employees marched in our parade,” said Marty “Gunny” Lewis, chairman of VetPar, the organization that plans the parade and also gives funds to military-supporting nonprofits. Each year the organization selects a different group of war veterans to honor.
In addition to the $2,000 it donates each year to support the $20,000 event, BAE Systems also invites VetPar volunteers to speak to employees.
Ten percent of the employees at BAE Systems’ Manassas office are veterans. Like many Washington area companies, budget cuts during the past four years forced it to limit its philanthropy. The company is giving less money and providing more pro bono services to nonprofits.
The defense contractor focuses its community outreach projects primarily on military programs, including Operation Homefront, Blue Star Families and United Service Organizations.
“We’re at war, and have wounded warriors coming home who need help,” Lewis said. “Businesses and we as a community have to be responsible to them.”