Salute to Veterans: Service continues from Army to Reserves to community

Published 6:00 am Wednesday, November 8, 2023

Justin Hutchinson has gotten a lot out of his time in the military.

Currently a Sergeant E5 with the 492nd Engineer Company of the Army Reserves based in Mankato, Hutchinson has seen the world and been part of making it a better place since 2010 when he enlisted in the United States Army.

“I give the military a lot of credit for some things, even as small as being organized,” Hutchinson said outside of Austin’s VFW Post No. 1216. “Showing up on time, a little bit more discipline. I owe a lot of that to the military.”

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“It worked out well,” he continued. “Mom and dad did a really good job raising us kids. The military just kind of built those values that I was raised with.”

After joining the service in 2010, Hutchinson was  stationed at Fort Riley in Kansas following boot camp at Fort Benning in Georgia where he trained as a 91 Fox small arms and artillery preparer. He then served as a weapons mechanic in Fort Lee, Virginia.

Scouts fold flags at the Austin VFW Post 1216, example of some more events Hutchinson would like to bring to the post. Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

During his time in the Army he served a tour in Afghanistan from 2012-2013 before switching to the Reserves side in 2015 and that of a carpenter.

It was at that point that Hutchinson gained experience throughout the world.

“I’ve had some really cool opportunities on the Reserves side,” he said. “Belize, Romania, Germany, Poland on all of these humanitarian missions.”

One of those missions, in Belize, included work on two clinics and a school as part of the United States government’s Beyond the Horizon.

“That was really cool, working on the humanitarian side, really working with the locals,” Hutchinson said. “You kind of get a first-hand glimpse of another culture. Afghanistan I was just on the post. I didn’t get a whole lot of opportunities to interact with the locals.”

Even though he still is a reservist, Hutchinson is now finding other ways to be involved locally, including with Austin’s VFW where he serves as senior vice commander behind Commander Scott Wiechmann, who recruited him to the post.

But that’s only the tip of the iceberg as he’s also heavily involved in Austin’s Cub Scouts program as well as serving as liaison between the Scouts and the VFW.

Hutchinson said when he first joined the VFW, where he is one of the youngest members, it was eye-opening.

“When I first became a member, I didn’t realize how much they impact the community,” he said. “I encourage any members to just come to a meeting. Second Wednesday of every month. Come to a meeting. It will blow your mind the amount of financial support all these youth groups the VFW is supporting.”

Hutchinson admits there is something of a challenge within the VFW as the organization searches for ways to recruit younger members.

For many it might be family constraints keeping them from joining or simply not knowing what the VFW does. While acknowledging time constraints younger veterans may have, he also knows the benefits that come from being a part of the organization.

“It’s good because I get to learn from experience to be able to have those conversations from veterans in a little bit harder times,” Hutchinson said. “That’s been a pretty cool opportunity to build those connections.”

As the post’s recruitment coordinator, Hutchinson and other veterans have been trying to create family opportunities to draw more veterans into the VFW, but added that it has been getting better.

This includes a night recently where Scouts and their families met at the VFW to fold flags in preparation for the flag retirement ceremony on Nov. 11 — Veterans Day. Hutchinson said that an opportunity like that and others is a great way to make that connection and grow the VFW.

“I can bring the whole family to a cool activity,” he said. “Opportunities like this, with the Cub Scouts, we’re getting parents in here and they are able to experience the post. It all starts with the littles. Patriotism, love for your country. Hopefully we can keep doing what we’re doing and this next generation can do better.”