Reflecting on the Past, Viewing the Future

September 1, 2007
By Kent R. Schneider

My involvement with AFCEA goes back 38 years. I have been in a number of volunteer leadership positions at the chapter and international levels, and I am excited about starting out on this journey as your association’s president and chief executive officer.

As a brand new second lieutenant in the U.S. Army Signal Corps 38 years ago, I joined an AFCEA that was different from today’s association. I remember standing in the pay line for the first time as an officer. I received cash at one end of the table and dispensed it as I paid bills to the officers’ club, the uniform tailor, the BOQ … and AFCEA. I was asked if I was a member of AFCEA. “No,” I replied. “Fifteen dollars, Lieutenant,” I was told. There was no discussion of a value proposition. If you were a member of the Army Signal Corps, you joined AFCEA. AFCEA was our association—that was a given.

The unstated value proposition turned out to be the sense of community among government and industry members, and AFCEA’s activities were dominated by the exchange of information. Government members in particular were closely involved with each other in this dialogue.

Fast forward nearly four decades. The Army has direct deposit instead of pay lines; association recruitment is done differently; the structure of government has changed; industry has changed; the threat and the approach to that threat have changed; and the technology that underpins the AFCEA community has changed profoundly over the past 38 years. But AFCEA remains the command, control, communications, computers and intelligence (C4I) community’s association. The value proposition is still as strong and relevant as it was 38 years ago when my membership with AFCEA began.

Today, however, we must do a better job of articulating the value proposition to all the stakeholders. We all know that we are most effective as a community when communication is inclusive and comprehensive, both within the government and between government and industry. We at AFCEA are in a unique position to facilitate that communication, and I am committed to doing that for all of our members.

All of us in the C4I community want to contribute to overall mission success and want to communicate with others who share related objectives in the community, but frequently we are so focused on our piece of the problem that we cannot include everyone we should. Often, government forums simply do not exist to bring together all of the government players easily. Similarly, acquisition rules often prevent timely and comprehensive discussion with industry on current issues. In the past, AFCEA was a forum to facilitate this kind of intra- and intergovernment discussion.

As this association’s president, I hope to help AFCEA reinvigorate its role in partnership with government to promote such communication among government entities and between government and industry. The association’s fundamental mission to provide an ethical forum for productive dialogue between industry and government has not changed, and in fact it has increased in importance. In this more complex world, that vital dialogue is essential for articulating the requirements between government and its industry solution providers. The association does a good job of bringing government and industry together, and that must continue.

Equally important to AFCEA and its members is its mission in support of technical education. The United States has long been a world leader in technology and has been pacesetting in technical education. But we are losing that edge. The United States today graduates approximately 200,000 technical scholars per year. India graduates 500,000, and China graduates 800,000. We must all act to preserve our nation’s technology advantage in the world. AFCEA’s efforts through its Educational Foundation, with its scholarship programs and the ProfessionalDevelopmentCenter, are vital for encouraging and continuing the education of high-technology professionals.

AFCEA’s mission is as important as ever. I’m committed to ensuring that we maintain the tradition of the association along with the quality of support to our members. We must continue to be faithful to our heritage, but we also must be able to articulate our value proposition so that people will continue to understand AFCEA’s fundamental importance to their lives.

In the coming weeks, I will be speaking with as many members as I can. I would like all of you to tell me what we are not doing for the membership that is important to you, what we are doing that we should continue or emphasize more and what we are doing that we should stop or de-emphasize. We must strive to provide as much service as possible to our members, including new services that are specific to emerging needs.

An association founded in the echoes of World War II and built during some of the most dangerous years of the Cold War now finds its relevance as great as ever in the Global War on Terrorism. The immersion of Western society in the information age heightens that relevance. AFCEA’s mission remains the same, and its unrelenting dedication to that cause—and to the members that underpin it—will continue.