60 Years … and Counting

September 2006
By Vice Adm. Herbert A. Browne, USN (Ret.)

AFCEANs always have prided themselves on looking to the future, especially with regard to change and transformation. An association cannot flourish and remain successful for six decades without its members and leaders maintaining a visionary approach to operations and planning.

But it also is good to take a look in the rearview mirror every now and then. AFCEA turns 60 this year, and all of us connected with the association are exceptionally proud of what its members have done to bring government and industry together as a team. While that team might have formed anyway, with AFCEA merely serving as a catalyst, nonetheless being a catalyst is an important role and one in which we all should take pride.

Another source of pride is how a small U.S. Army organization born in the echoes of World War II transitioned into an international joint multiservice association. Instead of ensuring that only U.S. forces benefited from AFCEA’s activities, association members made interoperability among nations a personal and professional goal.

AFCEA’s long history features a long list of significant changes worthy of our dynamic association:

• We developed an intelligence branch that produces vital symposia for a community that is inexorably intertwined with AFCEA’s communications and electronics roots.

• We created an office in Europe headed by a general manager to address the specific needs of its large European membership.

SIGNAL Magazine has evolved from a small, bi-monthly professional journal to an award-winning monthly news magazine that carries its message to the AFCEA community via the newest digital media. Members can receive the magazine at the beginning of the month and its electronic newsletter, SIGNAL Connections, in the middle of the month.

• We created an Educational Foundation that has provided millions of dollars in grants and scholarships to deserving individuals—and that continues to do so without extracting a penny for overhead. That effort has expanded internationally to include students in Canada and in Europe as well. And, a new scholarship initiative with the University of Maryland aims to open up new opportunities for members to pursue graduate engineering degrees.

At the heart of our association is the international headquarters building in northern Virginia. This defining edifice celebrates its 20th anniversary this summer. Its auditorium facilities host professional development courses that cover the overhead costs for the Educational Foundation.

Within this headquarters are the computer servers that provide state-of-the-art services to AFCEA members. Both AFCEA and SIGNAL Magazine have active Web sites that are more than just promotional venues for the association and its products. Not only can members contribute information to be placed on those Web sites, they also can interact through AFCEA’s service-providing portal.

These major changes are just the tip of the iceberg in AFCEA’s evolution. Many other smaller, but significant, accomplishments also have taken place. But one common denominator links all of these changes: They were driven by AFCEA’s membership.

That membership itself has changed over the decades. From a largely Army membership, AFCEA has grown into a multiservice organization. It has many civilian government members along with active-duty personnel and experts from throughout industry.

Much of that membership growth reflects the dynamism of the past 60 years. As the Cold War threatened to heat up, and then ended, security requirements changed course. As the communication and information technologies that underpin the AFCEA community opened up a world of new capabilities for the military and civilian communities alike, the relationship between these technologies and the international security community became virtually symbiotic.

AFCEA’s focus on issues at its conferences and symposia stem from the needs of its members. It is the effect of the information technology (IT) environment on AFCEA’s membership that directs the association’s vision and mission.

And, much of this effort is proactive rather than reactive. AFCEA does not wait for trends to become obvious. Our association prides itself on being on the cutting edge of developments that it knows will affect the AFCEA community, and it constantly strives to offer what members will need for seizing the future, not for reflecting on the past.

However, there are two things that will not change: First, AFCEA always will maintain the highest ethical standards. It never will embarrass government, the military or its membership. Second, the association always will be an IT-centric organization. And as those technologies evolve, so will the association adapt and adjust.

AFCEA is an international IT professional membership association dedicated to serving freedom-loving people around the globe. Our look in the rearview mirror gives us a proud view of a storied past. But it also helps us view what may lie ahead. For just as AFCEA evolved to lead its community through the many changes that characterized the past six decades, so too will it continue to change as needed in the years to come.

Now for the future.