By Robert Gluck/JNS.org
Retired United States Army Col. Carl A. Singer brings a can-do attitude to the top volunteer post at the Jewish War Veterans (JWV) nonprofit.
Singer, formerly a member of a hand-picked elite team supporting famed Vietnam War Gen. William Westmoreland when Westmoreland served as the U.S. Army’s chief of staff from 1968-72, has dedicated much of his time to volunteering in both the veterans and Jewish communities. Before he was elected as JWV’s national commander at the organization’s 121st Annual National Convention last summer, Singer was a member of JWV Post 133 in New Jersey for 30 years.
“I naturally gravitated toward volunteering,” Singer said in an interview ahead of Veterans Day. “You can complain about things or you can make them better.”
Born in 1946 on a westbound freight train along the Polish-Ukrainian border, Singer spent time in Displaced Persons camps and at age 3 came to the U.S., where he grew up in Cleveland. His mother worked in a bakery and his father was a tailor, and Singer would become the first member of his family to attend college. He later earned a master’s degree in industrial and operations engineering from the University of Michigan and a Ph.D. from Purdue University’s Krannert School of Management. An observant Jew, he now lives in Passaic, N.J.
Singer honed his management skills at the U.S. Army War College’s Center for Strategic Leadership, which trains senior officers for command positions. He calls famed Maj. Gen. Herbert J. McChrystal “the best manager I ever had.” Now, Singer is applying his skills in the service of Jewish and non-Jewish veterans alike. He affirms JWV’s primary purpose “as a service organization.”
“Whether it’s visiting veterans, sending care packages to vets overseas, or cooperating with the Jewish chaplaincy, we help veterans regardless of their religion,” he said. For instance, JWV members visit veterans in nursing homes and assisted living facilities around the country.
“We help with Shabbat and Passover services and on Hanukkah we bring latkes, not just to Jewish vets but to all veterans,” Singer said. “Volunteers don’t just push the veteran in his wheelchair, we sit down and chat with the veteran, especially those vets who don’t get a lot of visitors.”
The start of Singer’s leadership has also been marked by a focus on policy issues, with JWV this fall demanding in a press release that the Pentagon “drop all efforts” to recoup reimbursements from Army National Guardsmen after audits revealed overpayments and improper reenlistment screening tactics by the California National Guard.
“Lack of oversight and extensive misconduct by the California Guard led to this situation, and now our soldiers, who served honorably, are being punished. Many are severely in debt trying to pay the Pentagon back for a governmental mistake,” JWV said. Singer added in a statement that America needs “to honor the commitment to the National Guardsmen, but also put a better system in place to assure that recruiters don’t oversell and overpromise. No one should be penalized for serving their country.”
JWV’s policy statements aren’t limited to issues affecting veterans. The group recently condemned the passage of the controversial resolution by the United Nations’ cultural body, UNESCO, that denied the Jewish and Christian ties to the Temple Mount. Singer said in a statement that the UNESCO measure “robs both Christians and Jews of their rightful heritage, which predates Islam by many centuries,” and he requested that President Barack Obama take action to “promote the peaceful right to worship of Christians, Jews, and Muslims in the Old City.”
Singer said that under his watch, JWV will continue to focus on basic issues for veterans—including VA hospitals, the VA health care system, other healthcare-related concerns for veterans, and women in the military—in addition to maintaining a Jewishly relevant agenda.
“Moving forward I will continue to be a mouthpiece for the organization about key issues, and I’m also working on strengthening communication within the organization and its membership,” he said. “JWV will continue to advocate for a strong and safe Israel and work to fight anti-Semitism.”
In his spare time, Singer maintains an interest in history. A member of the board of directors for the National Museum of American Jewish Military History, he is quick to correct a famous author’s error about Jews and the military.
“Mark Twain said Jews didn’t serve in the Civil War. This is not true,” Singer said. “They served honorably in every war. If you visit the museum you can learn about famous Jews such as Uriah Levy, a naval officer and philanthropist, and Haym Salomon, who helped finance the American Revolution.”
JWV, said its new leader, is “there for veterans now and in the future.”