A Call From the AFCEA Field

July 2005
By Cmdr. Henry Johnson, USNR (Ret.), AFCEA San Diego Chapter President

A little more than a month ago, the United States observed Memorial Day, during which it remembered the men and women who have given their lives in support of freedom. Many other AFCEA-chaptered countries celebrate the equivalent of Remembrance Day, Armistice Day or Veterans Day on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, commemorating the coming of peace in Europe after World War I and honoring those who have given their lives for freedom or another noble cause. Here in San Diego at CampPendleton, Maj. Gen. Richard Natonski, USMC, commanding general, 1st Marine Division, was the keynote speaker for Memorial Day services held May 30, 2005, at CampPendleton. He paid tribute to the 420 U.S. Marines who have died in the past 365 days of the global war on terrorism. Quoting George Orwell, he said, “People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.”

These men—and women—who stand ready to do violence on our behalf need broad-based support to carry out their mission. And, AFCEA is an organization that can provide that support at all levels and involvement, and at all corners of the globe. Members of the AFCEA community have within their grasp the tools and talents to begin a chapter or to tailor an existing one to provide that type of support.

My own involvement in AFCEA has led me to the San Diego Chapter presidency, but my roots in AFCEA go back just a few years to New Orleans. While still on active duty in New Orleans at Commander, Naval Air Reserve Force, I met with a fellow naval aviator, Jim Lowder. Jim was the command’s N-6, or chief information officer. Highly energetic, Jim one day got the idea to take over the commander’s Flag Mess and have a luncheon with fellow “geeks” featuring a guest speaker. The luncheon was a huge success, and several more followed. Word got out that jambalaya was pretty tasty, and the crowds had to be limited due to the small size of the mess hall. I would like to think that the whimsical name “NOLA GOLA,” for New OrleansLA “Geek Officers” Lunch, was not the only reason for the success of this event.

Building around those NOLA GOLA lunches, we stood up a new chapter of AFCEA: the Silicon Bayou Chapter. With help from the AFCEA International headquarters staff, including some funding, we launched the new chapter. We really did not have anyone with extensive chapter experience from elsewhere. But this proves that what we did can be done by anyone.

Help is certainly available. AFCEA regional vice presidents (RVPs) are a key bridge between chapters and AFCEA International headquarters, which will help stand up a chapter. The RVP has the pull and knowledge to move mountains. San Diego was blessed to have the late Buck Bragunier as the Southwestern RVP for a number of years. Buck was a General Rockwell Award winner—the highest individual award in AFCEA—for good reason.

Young AFCEANs represent another bridge. Chapters can reach down through these younger folks to see what the future has for the command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR) industry. The imagination and energy of the Young AFCEANs are a wellspring of resources.

Now also is the time to showcase the C4ISR discipline through a symposium, large or small. The effort is considerable, no doubt. However, the reward for staging a professional presentation of the chapter to the community while showcasing C4ISR will be substantial. Not everyone who is part of a chapter is a good candidate to lead the effort. Chapter leaders should hand-pick those who will deliver, and they should beware of overloading the hard-chargers. It’s all about load sharing.

For a symposium to really provide a treasure chest of resources for  scholarships, it must be constructed to keep costs less than revenue. Stating the obvious, the idea is to attract intellectual capital for the show, share it in a meaningful forum, and extend and make new friendships. An efficiently run symposium is the key to harvesting these resources. At the end of the day, the chapter should have some money for the seed corn of the C4ISR industry: the young people pursuing science and mathematics in academia who will be the backbone of the industry.

All of these efforts bring us back to supporting the warfighter. Each year, the San Diego Chapter and its sister chapter, North County/Camp Pendleton, come together in December for a joint chapter “Toys for Tots” holiday toy drive at their joint chapter lunch at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar. In December 2005, Paul Wickstrom, Pendleton chapter president, led a very small cadre from Pendleton to the joint chapter luncheon. Why was it small? Because most of his chapter was deployed to Iraq, and Paul stepped up to the plate to fill the huge void. By its nature, the Pendleton Chapter is challenged when the real warfighters, including those contractors from industry, are deployed.

Those 420 Marine Corps heroes who have given their lives in the past 365 days are not alone, nor will they be forgotten. Democracy is worth fighting for, and all of us must help those warfighters avoid giving the ultimate sacrifice. AFCEA is the bond among government, industry and the military, and the return on contributing is not just the satisfaction of doing something well but also something meaningful and with great associates like fellow AFCEANs. AFCEA is what its members make of it. So, make good use of it.