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AFCEA—Still the Association of Choice

July 2003
By Dane Weston, AFCEA Orlando-Central Florida Chapter President

Everything is “transforming” these days. Our economy, our military, our nation and our place in the world are all under immense pressures to change, to dramatically alter what we are to keep up with what we need to be.

AFCEA is changing as well. But perhaps this change is more measured, tempered by the association’s long history of service and the guiding principles that have served everyone so well over the years. And perhaps we can use some of these things that have not changed to help us grow as an association and as individual chapters. Following are some thoughts, observations and expressions of grateful appreciation from a new, small chapter in this regard.

The Orlando-Central Florida Chapter has 72 members and is growing. It recently was honored with the Harry C. Ingles Award, and it is entering its fourth year of service to the U.S. Defense Department’s Modeling and Simulation Center of Excellence in Orlando. It serves a small community of all four military services and the U.S. Coast Guard, plus more than 160 companies devoted to modeling and simulation, plus academic institutions offering both master’s and doctoral programs in this important discipline.

This may not sound like communications and electronics, or command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR), or any other typical AFCEA community of interest. That observation is exactly on target. It points straight to some of the strengths of AFCEA International and its members that the chapter can leverage in these transformative times.

First, the AFCEA focus is C4ISR, which is about gathering information, making decisions and directing action in a dynamic environment. That is a pretty broad scope. The modeling and simulation community of interest in Central Florida is large and strong, as are a number of professional associations focused around the “Team Orlando” Center of Excellence and other high-technology interests and industries in the area. But there is room for gathering information, making decisions and directing action in almost any community of interest, and the Orlando-Central Florida Chapter has been able to carve out a niche for AFCEA in an environment filled with other professional associations.

We have found that some sister associations (in our case usually the Association of the United States Army [AUSA], and the International Test and Evaluation Association [ITEA]) are happy to co-sponsor events with us, as long as we respect their turf. We have established a council of the presidents or program chairs of many of the local chapters of various professional associations to coordinate calendars and work cooperative events. This appears to be working very well, and it may be a way to grow awareness of AFCEA and our mission while leveraging the interests and resources of sister associations.

Second, there is real power in the nonpartisan, strictly ethical forum for exchanging ideas and information that is at the heart of AFCEA, and members do not have to be Signal Corps veterans to understand and appreciate that fact. More and more, the world around us is returning to some basic values of which AFCEA and its members never lost sight. The high standards AFCEA sets as its very foundation have helped our chapter attract new members who did not need a course in business ethics to understand the value of the AFCEA forum. Many of these new members have solid military backgrounds but little or no signals experience. They were attracted to this small AFCEA chapter by some careful recruiting, assurance that its members are not all wireheads and direct observation of the upright, straightforward AFCEA forum at work. These new AFCEANs are a constant source of new ideas and dedicated hard work for everyone, and they drive much of the small success we have realized.

Third, we have found it absolutely essential to have a financial engine that powers the chapter. While this may be a blinding flash of the obvious for most chapters, the short history of the Orlando-Central Florida Chapter makes it easy for members to remember the early days when every luncheon was an adventure because the chapter treasury had no “float” in its bank account to cover any mistakes or last-minute changes. Support from AFCEA International—and thus from all of you—was essential to getting this chapter started. However, to really lift off, the chapter had to find its own engine. For us this turned out to be a small but high-quality local TechNet, co-sponsored with the large AUSA chapter here and generally focused on some C4ISR-related topics of interest to local constituencies.

Much chapter business revolves around planning and executing this annual TechNet, and then disbursing the proceeds through the chapter’s various educational awards and grants. Our chapter’s core members—many of whom are new AFCEANs—are very action-oriented, and one of the main reasons they signed on with AFCEA is to make good things happen, not just to attend meetings. Dollars—made in an ethical, constructive endeavor and spent for a good cause—seem to us to be a good measure of our results in this regard.

Perhaps these observations can help other chapters work a long-standing challenge. We in Orlando know we still have much hard work to do to become an established chapter, and we look around AFCEA with admiration, and perhaps a bit of envy, at the successes other chapters have achieved. But with AFCEA’s time-honored foundation and strengths, we know where we are going, and with the help of our friends at AFCEA International Headquarters and throughout the association, we are confident in our journey. Our sincere thanks to all of you for the example you set, the work you do and the help you extend.