Europe Adds a Continental Flavor to AFCEA Activities

September 2002
By Cdre. Robert Howell, RN (Ret.), AFCEA Europe General Manager

In a month when the focus of SIGNAL Magazine might reasonably be expected to cover the aftermath of September 11 one year later, it is an honor to be invited to provide a European introduction to coincide with TechNet Europe in Budapest on October 17 and 18. And that, surely, is an example of the continuing strength of AFCEA International. For while world events may have a significant impact on one particular country, the association can take a broad view and incorporate the outcome into its agenda for the future, but maintain continuity of progress and action to improve and strengthen its appeal and commitment to the membership.

And, within Europe, maintaining continuity against a backdrop of 22 different languages in 26 different countries brings piquancy to the mission of the association, which makes an interesting mix of aspirations and approaches. Some nations already have adapted the AFCEA acronym to one that may fit in better with their national requirements such as “Association Française …,” or “Association for ….” Their events cover topics, such as telemedicine, air traffic control or business banking, that may not be considered mainstream business. And yet, under the banner of AFCEA, the 4,000 members and 200 corporates from 36 European chapters are proud to belong within an international structure that provides the unique ethical blend of military, government, industry and academia that is AFCEA’s greatest strength.

European industry in particular, from small consultancies to global corporates, also sees the benefit of membership, with its business opportunities ranging from breakfasts to dinners, via lunches and receptions, against a background of interesting speakers and networking potential. However, the larger events, including TechNet Europe, become harder to promote as more and more special interest groups establish their own events. I often feel that we are fishing in a lake that is being surrounded by more and more fishermen with less and less water. High-grade speakers and a lively program continue to be the hallmarks for success, but sustaining AFCEA’s visibility in this expanding marketplace remains a challenge.

Europe is absorbing the impact of September 11, and chapters already have brought the topic of terrorism and its implications into their programs. At the same time, however, I am seeking to expand the footprint of AFCEA business. Our short event in St. Petersburg, Russia, was as much an attempt to push the boundaries of AFCEA’s influence as to provide opportunities for companies that wished to take advantage of new markets beyond traditional defense communications and information systems.

However, I would emphasize that in Brussels my focus is very much on NATO Headquarters, the NATO Consultation, Command and Control Agency and Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) near Mons, Belgium, which is about one hour’s drive south of Brussels. I have already run two events at SHAPE (May 1 and 2) and planning is underway for May or June 2003. This is a fruitful area bringing together serving members of the 19 nations in the NATO alliance as well as NATO civilians who can contribute to the debate on topics such as interoperability and compatibility (yes, there is a difference), security and frequency spectrum. And I do not forget the European Union in my marketing.

I am extremely fortunate to have an outstanding team in Brussels led by Pia Sementilli, who is both office manager and events manager. She is ably assisted by Linda Guthrie, chapter and membership manager. Together they have more than 30 years of dedicated service to AFCEA International. That makes my job very easy, particularly when I am trying to avoid past mistakes. Liliane Dozot is our part-time accountant, and she is kept busy, not least, by the intricacies and variations of value-added tax across Europe.

AFCEA’s European Advisory Council (EAC), made up of the European directors and regional vice presidents, provides an invaluable sounding board in addition to allowing a considered European view when taking a position on headquarters initiatives. Most recently, the EAC has agreed that after Budapest this year, TechNet Europe should be held in Rome in 2003, Warsaw in 2004 and then either Portugal or Spain in 2005. With vibrant chapters operating in Eastern Europe, the number of attractive TechNet Europe options is increasing steadily.

Surrounded by the variety and richness of our European heritage, culture and comradeship, we can look across the Atlantic and share in your sadness as you commemorate the tragic events of September 11. But we also can reflect that our history offers many examples of the strength that can flow from such adversity. We hope that you will join us at a future AFCEA event in Europe and experience that vitality first-hand.