A statewide leader of the Jewish War Veterans of New Jersey wishes there were “100 more” like his fellow leader, Mel Woda.
Woda, a Korean War veteran and immediate past commander of the JWV Asbury Park-Ocean Post 125, was honored as the State of New Jersey Commander of the Year 2009-10.
Woda, a lifelong resident of Monmouth County, was nominated and selected from a roster of 40 post commanders from across the state. The award was presented in September.
According to the citation, Woda was recognized for his “outstanding post leadership, exceptional dedication, and community service to NJ veterans in memorial homes and veterans hospitals, regardless of race, religion, or creed.”
His nomination came from Bernie Epworth, the Marlton resident who until June was statewide JWV commander. He told NJ Jewish News he had visited every post and met with every commander, and Woda was clearly outstanding. “I wish we had 100 more like him,” he said. “He is totally dedicated, very bright, and likeable, and very considerate of people. He has expanded his post and has succeeded in getting people involved — which can be increasingly difficult as many of our members get older.”
Post 125 was established in Asbury Park in 1936 and currently has a membership of 240, making it the second-largest JWV in New Jersey. Woda, a 45-year resident of Ocean Township, joined the post in 1962. He took over leadership of the post three years ago when the leader fell ill. He was then elected to a new two-year term.
Woda has participated annually in Memorial Day and Veterans Day activities as a member of the Veterans Alliance, together with Asbury Park Catholic War Veterans Post 714 and Veterans of Foreign Wars Harold Daley Post 1333. He has also been a frequent keynote speaker at commemoration programs honoring veterans.
Irwin Gerechoff, who succeeded Epworth as statewide commander, is also a member of Post 125 and has known Woda for decades. He said, “He’s just the best of the best — an excellent speaker and a very good organizer.”
The JWV serves the interests of all veterans, free of charge, to make sure they get whatever benefits they are entitled to. They are working now with gradually increasing numbers of people who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. The organization also arranges for patient visits in VA hospitals, greetings for returning and departing troops at Fort Dix, care packages sent to military personnel overseas, and raising money for veterans-related causes.
Woda grew up in Bradley Beach. He and his wife, Helene, a member of the JWV Women’s Auxiliary, have two children — a son, Michael, who lives in Jersey City, and a daughter, Robin Woda Bauer, who lives with her husband and four children in Ocean Township.
A graduate of Monmouth University, Woda retired in 1988 after 30 years of service with the Department of Defense, where he served as a deputy project manager responsible for the development and production of battlefield sensors and ground radar systems. In 1989, he founded a program management consulting firm serving the electronics community in Washington, Maryland, and New Jersey.
During the conflict in Korea, he served as a radar instructor in the Signal Corps responsible for teaching the theory and operation of several advanced radar systems. In addition to his American students, Woda taught classes of students from Japan, China, Turkey, Greece, and Egypt.
“Over the years,” said Woda, “Post 125 has been very fortunate to have very dedicated and loyal veterans serving the many needs of the veterans community, including those at the VA clinics and at NJ Veterans Memorial Homes.” He said there is much satisfaction to be gained from helping the veterans who have helped defend the country. “All veterans are comrades forever,” he added, “regardless of their race or religious affiliation.”
The Commander of the Year award is just the latest in a long line he has received over the years. In 1983, MG Paige, Headquarters Army Electronics Research and Development Command, selected Woda as the command careerist of the year. He earned the National Cost Reduction Award from the Secretary of the Army for saving the government $1 million and a special award from the Secretary of Defense for briefing the West German Minister of Defense.