EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — A local veteran made history this month after he was sworn in as commander for the Department of New Jersey Veterans of Foreign Wars.
Brian Wiener, a township resident, is the first Atlantic County resident to hold the highest title within the state organization.
His dad Norman Wiener, 83, will serve as his chief of staff — another first. A father-son duo has never held those two positions together.
Brian, 49, was sworn in as commander at the New Jersey VFW’s convention in Wildwood on June 19. He was in the Navy for six years and served in Bosnia, the Persian Gulf and Iraq in the 1990s. Along with his state commander position, he is also an Atlantic City firefighter. Norman, of Brigantine, served in Korea from 1958 to 1959 in the Army.
Norman also served in the Army National Guard for about 10 years.
Throughout his time as a VFW member, Brian has held about seven different positions at both the local and state level. He will hold the high-ranking position for a one-year term, working with his father.
“I could choose anybody I wanted, and I chose him,” Brian said of his father.
And typically, the son follows the father in ranks, but Norman is gladly following his son.
“I trust him to make decisions, not just because he’s my father,” Brian said. “If he weren’t my father, I still would have chosen him. He’s very knowledgeable about this organization. He’s very fair and very honest. He’s got the answers. If he doesn’t have them, he’ll find them.”
As chief of staff, Norman is in charge of Brian’s daily schedule, which includes traveling around the state and even sometimes to Washington, D.C.
“Sometimes he misses a date,” Norman jokingly said about his son’s commander schedule. “When he’s got a meeting, I have my own calendar, I mark it down. We work together pretty good.”
“And he’s a better driver than I am,” Brian joked. “He drives me around ... and he pays for my dinners.”
And even though he works for his son, Norman still has to act as his father at times.
“I do it tactfully,” he said, jokingly. “Sometimes he doesn’t know it.”
“I put this poor man through hell growing up,” Brian said. “Now I can spend some good quality time with him, and that’s important.”
As commander, Brian manages the operations and logistics of the state’s 218 VFW posts and oversees its memberships and community involvement.
One initiative he helped push is to try to get benefits for all veterans, not just those who served in foreign wars.
“In the state of New Jersey, you’re not considered a veteran for tax purposes, or hiring purposes, if you were not in a conflict,” he said. “So that gentleman who did 20 years in the Air Force who never deployed doesn’t qualify for any of those veteran benefits the state offers. We as the VFW have been lobbying this for years to push that a vet is a vet, regardless of where you serve. You took the oath.”
Another push is to engage veterans with the community.
“We have to make sure that every post is doing community activities,” he said. “That we’re raising money and distributing it back out to the community. That’s one of our large jobs.”
Brian is also looking out for younger veterans, as serving in the military runs deep in his family roots. His two children are also following in his footsteps. Brian’s son, Collin, 26, graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, and his daughter Breana, 24, is a sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps.
“What I love most about this organization is that we make an impact and make a difference with veterans,” he said. “And taking care of a veteran, what we went through. You can’t explain that feeling. When you come home, there’s a feeling of, ‘You have to take care of your battle buddies or comrades,’ and that’s why I do what I do.”