WINDHAM – After five years leading the Windham Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 10643, Don Swander has found his “very worthy” replacement: retired Marine Corps Col. Bob Akins of Raymond, who took over the post at an installment ceremony Wednesday night.

Akins, 73, lives on Crescent Lake with his wife Rachel Fisher, a former teacher at Manchester School in Windham.

Akins is excited about the new position, and hopes to make an impact on the group that meets in the Windham Veterans Center behind the Windham Mall. Among other things, Akins said he wants to increase the post’s visibility in the public eye, introduce a “Windham VFW and Friends” singing group, create teams that would speak in local schools and organizations, increase social offerings outside the veterans center, and attract veterans of the more recent wars into the organization.

Akins has a decorated military record, having led a battalion of combat Marines in Vietnam and served at Marine Corps Headquarters in Washington, D.C. And he is taking this new role with as much seriousness and devotion as he did his military career, primarily because America is dealing with a new generation of veterans from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Given the nature of modern deployments to combat areas, this might well be one of my toughest but most rewarding chances to again serve our military men and women,” Akins said.

Swander will remain active as a member of the VFW as well as president of the Windham Veterans Association, which is made up of membership from both the VFW post and American Legion Field-Allen Post 148, which also meets at the veterans center. Barry Lombard of Raymond was installed earlier this year as commander of the Field-Allen Post.

Swander, who has done much to improve the grounds of the center by installing granite benches, a flagpole, a new sign, trees and shrubs, is seeking fewer responsibilities as his wife Camille approaches retirement, and sees Akins as the perfect replacement.

“Bob is a terrific guy. I found him in our own ranks. He’s been a member since 1967 and has recently become active,” Swander said. “And when I met him, I thought, wow, this guy’s a candidate. What a background. What a nice guy. It’ll be such a pleasure to work with him.”

Swander especially praises Akins ability to lead, saying people stop and listen when Akins has an idea. As an example, Swander said he, Akins and a number of other vets recently helped move an elderly member’s possessions into storage and when the group was stumped with how to proceed, Akins offered useful suggestions, “and when he talked, we listened. When I talk, that doesn’t necessarily happen,” Swander joked.

Swander hopes Akins’ personality will attract new members – possibly younger members – to join the group, which currently has about 70 members, with less than a couple dozen regularly attending monthly meetings.

“The jobs of commander are membership and motivation. I think with the caliber of person that Bob is, and especially his war record leading three combat missions, people will be attracted to come to see what he’s doing,” Swander said.

Bob Akins

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