Mt. Pleasant-area TREA chapter marks 15th anniversary
In 1997, Tom Caldwell joined the Pittsburgh Chapter 72 of TREA, what then stood for The Retired Enlisted Association, a nonprofit organization which fights to protect and enhance benefits due to enlisted personnel who wore the uniform of the Armed Forces of the United States.
Two years later, Caldwell's drive to supply Mt. Pleasant and surrounding communities with a more localized representation of the group took shape when he founded TREA Chapter 98 of Acme — one of four such chapters across Pennsylvania.
“The late (Sgt. Maj. Robert B. Covington), a national recruiter and president of TREA Chapter 72, helped me organize the local one,” said Caldwell, 78, a Bear Rocks resident who served in the U.S. Army from 1954 to 1962, and then joined the Army Reserve in 1974 and retired in 1993.
“In July of 1999, our chapter was chartered, and I was the charter president from July 1999 to December 2000. I was president again in 2008, and I am president now,” he said, adding that he also served as one of three national director earlier this decade.
Caldwell ongoing efforts to lead the local TREA chapter — which today counts approximately 100 members — were lauded recently as the chapter marked its 15th anniversary of existence with a banquet at Laurel Mountain Inn in Somerset.
In attendance was featured speaker and Westmoreland County Commissioner Charles “Chuck” Anderson, a retired U.S. Marine Corps colonel and Vietnam War veteran who served 28 years in the military branch.
Joining him were many of the chapter's members who range from veterans of World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and the more recent wars in Iraq, Caldwell said.
“We started out as a retirement organization; but three years ago we took a vote at our annual convention and changed it to allow any honorably discharged enlisted service people to join,” Caldwell said. “Before that you either had to be a retiree, have 10 years active enlisted service in the military; or be on disability.”
The change in membership eligibility requirements also changed the organization's name to The Enlisted Association, still abbreviated by TREA.
Organization fights for veterans' rights
TREA was founded in 1963 by retired U.S. Air Force Master Sgts. George Skonce and Dean Sorrell.
At the time, the two were set on creating a dialogue with the federal legislative chambers in Washington, D.C., to defend the rights and benefits of themselves and their fellow servicemen.
Since establishing the local chapter, Caldwell has led the local chapter in carrying on that mission.
“We are a lobbying group. We are not political and we are not partisan ... there are Democrats, Republicans and Independents who belong,” he said. The organization's members also spend time attending community parades on Memorial Day and Veterans Day, along with memorial services, Caldwell said.
Since its founding, members of the local TREA chapter have made at least six trips to Washington to help convey the organization's interests to officials in federal government, Caldwell said.
“We're trying to communicate with Washington D.C., and with Congress, on ways to better meet the needs of veterans and enlisted personnel,” he said.
Anderson, who was appointed county commissioner in 2008 and was then elected to a four-year term in 2011, personally testified to the vital need of such an organization and Caldwell's role to keep it going locally.
“Tom is not only serving this region, he is serving the country,” Anderson said. “Both he and members of his chapter are lending themselves to the greater good, making sure our veterans who have served and our now serving have promises that are made to them kept. This is a long line of patriots standing in front of the powers that be, making sure veterans and those serving get what they deserve.”
Along with the local chapter and the Pittsburgh chapter, the two other TREA chapters in-state are in Philadelphia (Chapter 70) and Johnstown (Chapter 105).
A leader is lauded
Caldwell's work to wage forth in the battle to protect the benefits of America's service men and woman is noticed by those at TREA's highest administrative posts, including Rick Delaney, the organization's national president since 2012.
“I know that Tom Caldwell is a go-getter, and he's involved with making life better for those who served and who currently serve in America's military,” said Delaney, a Vietnam-era veteran of the U.S. Air Force.
“I think Tom has left his footprints all over Pennsylvania, and probably farther than that,” he said.
Tammy Clowers, director of operations of TREA National Headquarters in Aurora, Colo., tabbed the local chapter as one of the organization's “success stories” for its longevity and growth.
“I'd like to congratulate the chapter, and Tom,” Clowers said. “They are very active in their community, and I wish them many more years of service to their community and to veterans in the military.”
Grassroots efforts like those undertaken by Caldwell and the members of his chapter are paramount, she added.
“The members of Congress do not know what's important, unless enough of their constituents tell them, so it's very important, the lobbying they are doing,” Clowers said.
Deirdre Parke Holleman, executive director of the TREA Washington, D.C., office praised the energy of the local chapter.
“It's a very good, energetic chapter ... good for Tom,” Holleman said
Mission for growth is alive
Twenty percent of the members of TREA Chapter 98 are over the age of 80, Caldwell said.
“We need younger people, too,” he said.
Joe Hartman, 77, also of Bear Rocks, a retired U.S. Navy chief, Vietnam War veteran and a fellow TREA member, agreed.
“We have a hard time getting younger people to come in, but we have to keep trying, because we'd like to keep this organization going,” Hartman said.
Going forward, Caldwell said the local chapter is set on growing its ranks to help further its mission.
“We have about 100 members, but we'd really like to have 1,000,” Caldwell said. “When we go before Congress, the first thing they ask is ‘How many members do you have?'”
The work of TREA, Caldwell said, is ever important in the wake of recent federal Department of Veterans Affairs scandal, in which government officials are alleged to have falsified data to hide how long veterans were waiting to see doctors at VA hospitals. The controversy led to the resignation in May of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki.
In late June, President Barack Obama nominated Robert A. McDonald, chief executive officer of Procter & Gamble, to be the department's new secretary. McDonald's confirmation is pending.
“The people who are looking for pensions and disability, they're having a lot of trouble, too,” Caldwell said. “We're trying to get those waiting lists shortened.”
For information on local TREA membership, call Caldwell at 412-389-3046.
A.J. Panian is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-547-5722 or firstname.lastname@example.org.