In April, members of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3054 in East Setauket voted for their first female post commander, Reanna Fulton.
Fulton, 41, has been with the post since 2004. Former post commander Jay Veronko, who moved to Florida before the end of 2020, said she was the right person for the job.
“Reanna, regardless of her gender, was the obvious choice for commander as she was one of the most motivated and involved members of the post while I was commander,” Veronko said. “She felt, as I did, the future of the post was in getting younger veterans to join, more community involvement and to maintain our great relationship with the Three Village Dads, Rotary Club and Daughters of the American Revolution. The fact she was the first female commander of the Setauket post is noteworthy, but I believe the membership that voted her into the leadership position saw, as I did, the best path forward for the post was in her election to post commander.”
After Veronko left, Fulton served as commander pro tempore until June when her term officially began. As a member for almost two decades, she said after she joined another woman also became a member but after a while she left, so Fulton remains the only female.
When she first joined she said it was a bit uncomfortable, but she said it was due to not having any connections at the time, and the members feeling strange that a female was around.
Fulton, who is also junior vice commander of the Suffolk County VFW, said in addition to hoping to add more women she wants to recruit more veterans in general.
“We’ve taken a different perspective on what we envision our posts to be, because for so long it’s been this hidden gem in the community,” she said. “When I grew up, I never knew it was there until somebody recruited me.”
She said post members hope the community outreach will “bridge that gap between the old perception of what the VFW was to what we envisioned it now for us to be more family oriented.”
Fulton lives in Setauket with her husband Chris and sons Blake and Bryce, and said she looks forward to them being involved.
In June the post hosted an event for its members and families, which was different from the annual chicken barbecue fundraiser it holds every August for the community, an event that is not planned this year due to COVID-19.
“It was more about us as a group of veterans so that we can invite our families down and get to meet each other and have those relationships,” she said.
The new post commander first came back from deployment in 2003 after serving in the U.S. Navy on active duty during the 9/11 era. She said at the time veterans like her weren’t sure how they would be classified. To join the VFW, vets need to have been deployed overseas and have received a recognized campaign medal. Eventually the military campaign was deemed War on Terror.
The 1997 Ward Melville High School graduate entered the Navy in 1998, and after leaving active duty in 2003, she was in the Navy reserves from 2006-09.
The vet said she tried college for a bit after high school, but she knew joining the military was her true calling after being inspired by her father.
“One of the reasons that I did join the Navy in the first place — it wasn’t like it came out of the blue — my father was in the Navy during Vietnam, and then my grandfather was in the Army in the post-World War II occupation of Germany,” she said. “So for me, I always had that in me and knew that and that was one of the reasons I was so interested in it because of my father.”
In July of 2002 she was deployed on an aircraft carrier and was stationed in the Persian Gulf for six months as part of Operation Southern Watch.
“Just to keep an eye on things,” Fulton said. “That was during the time there was some tension in Afghanistan.”
Around Christmas time they were ready to return home, but they were given orders to turn around. She was in the Middle East for Operation Iraqi Freedom and finally returned to the States in May 2003.
She said when she first enlisted she never imagined anything like 9/11 and the aftermath. She was in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, when the USS Cole was bombed in Yemen by the terrorist group al-Qaida in October 2000.
“My first thought was, oh my God, I’m leaving for a ship in like three months,” she said.
Fulton said she knew things like that could happen, but it wasn’t something she thought about all the time.
“Aircraft carriers like mine — USS Abraham Lincoln — are fortunate enough to have many ships and a submarine in our battle group to protect us,” she said. “Our mission was first to monitor what was happening in the Middle East and then later to get our airplanes up with bombs for ‘shock and awe’ and the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom in March 2003.”
She said while serving she was mostly on the carrier, the crew did stop off in Bahrain twice. While the country is more lenient than others in the Middle East about what women should wear, it is more conservative than the United States.
“It’s interesting because you’re briefed every time you get off in a different port, so you knew as a woman what to wear,” she said. “We had to wear a shirt that was completely buttoned up with long sleeves and long pants with shoes. You couldn’t show any skin. We were allowed to show our faces. So, that was how we had to leave when we left — off the base, that’s how we had to look.”
Joining the military, Fulton said she wanted to gain discipline so when she returned home she could go back to college, and that’s what she did. She holds a master’s degree and a postgraduate administrative certificate for education at Stony Brook University. Currently, she’s a supervisor of technology for a local school district, and she’s enrolled in her third year of the doctoral program in leadership and organizational change at Baylor University.
For women looking to join the military, Fulton has advice.
“Expect the unexpected, and just stick to your goals,” she said. “What are you there for? What do you want to get out of it?”
This is a philosophy she applies as the new commander of VFW Post 3054, and she’s looking forward to meeting community members, especially veterans and their families.