Chairwoman's Commentary: Generating Excitement About National Security

July 1, 2018
By DeEtte Gray, AFCEA Chairwoman of the Board

As newly elected chairwoman of AFCEA International’s Board of Directors, I take the gavel having been involved with the association for many years, including several years on the Executive Committee.

AFCEA is an association that is moving forward. AFCEA performs a valuable service to its members and the free world. We will continue to expand on that service and generate new activities that will increase the association’s value to its current community and to prospective members alike.

When I first became involved with AFCEA as a volunteer, I was amazed to discover the size and influence of this organization. The association comprised active-duty military, industry and former government personnel, all offering a diverse set of expertise from which to learn. We all serve a common purpose to deploy technologies that enable the national security mission.

Everyone in this field knows that vital national security technology skill sets are in short supply, and filling the void will be essential to meeting today’s challenges. One of our biggest challenges is to increase the interest of young talent in the defense, homeland security and intelligence missions. AFCEA provides an opportunity to promote these missions to people who ordinarily might not be involved with them.

In today’s world, we must renew excitement in the mission of national security. In the 1960s, NASA’s moon landing program generated interest in space technologies and related disciplines because it excited the U.S. public. Along with support for the space program, this excitement spurred thousands of young people to pursue careers in what we now call STEM.

The technologies and tradecrafts we employ to defend our country are cutting-edge. The American public would be amazed if they understood the efforts underway to keep them safe. We must re-energize interest in the technology fields through mentoring and engaging the bright minds who can contribute to this industry. AFCEA is providing STEM grants to grade school teachers, and this is a good first step. But that effort must continue to keep students engaged and interested in national security technologies.

Young AFCEANs are a rising force within the association. We must mentor them as future leaders, encourage their ideas and increase the return they receive on membership. They are the next generation of AFCEA leadership, but they are not waiting to inherit the mantle of authority to effect changes in AFCEA. During my next two years as chairwoman, I plan to help advance the cause of Young AFCEANs within the association. More experienced AFCEA members have much to offer their young counterparts in the way of advice, and this assistance will be returned in the form of new ideas and approaches from these talented innovators.

We also must pursue ways to get more active military personnel involved in AFCEA. We will look at our overall outreach to service members, especially in terms of the value AFCEA offers to them. Adding active-duty military personnel to AFCEA’s ranks will strengthen both parties in this technology-dominated environment.

Academia is another underrepresented area in AFCEA. Many corporate members of AFCEA have relationships with universities in key technology fields, and the association can tap these relationships to increase the presence of academia within AFCEA. These partnerships broaden our perspective on the technology challenges we face and open doors to emerging sources of talented individuals.

We also need more active participation from AFCEA’s member companies, especially the large corporations. Many of them are represented by only a few individuals, yet these firms have resources they can apply to AFCEA’s efforts at addressing today’s challenges. We want more people actively involved so our membership will grow. All our members have a lot to offer this organization, and we want your participation.

I’m excited about the opportunity to serve as AFCEA International chairwoman, as the association is poised to make major contributions to global security throughout the free world. I welcome input from all members on their perspectives about the association’s challenges and opportunities.

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