President's Commentary: Nothing Rough About This Diamond

September 1, 2021
By Lt. Gen. Robert M. Shea, USMC (Ret.)

AFCEA’s 75th anniversary shows that it is an enduring organization that has even greater relevance today than when it was founded. The foresight of AFCEA’s founding fathers in 1946 cannot be overestimated, as the conditions that spurred them to create the association have continued throughout the many years that have passed in the intervening decades.

Men such as David Sarnoff, Fred Friendly, Harry Ingles and Darryl F. Zanuck recognized the need for this association. They witnessed how the United States was not ready for World War II and how industry had to play a life-saving role in meeting defense needs during the worst war in human history. Much of this contribution was in the newly emerging field of advanced electronics, with the exigencies of war leading to new inventions that revolutionized communications.

These four men and their compatriots did not want the country to ever be caught technologically unprepared again. They also saw the value of maintaining the two-way links between government and industry that helped fuel the communications revolution that carried over into the commercial economy. So AFCEA was established as a neutral entity that allowed both parties, along with academia, to exchange ideas at the forefront of communications and electronics technology.

These founders also realized that a distributed membership concentrated in regional chapters and linked by common interests would ensure that the association could reach out to various communities and leverage intellectual capital. Those chapters serve as two-way nodes and the heart for AFCEANs and association events.

Throughout its 75 years, AFCEA has had a dedicated membership among government, industry, academia and individuals. They have demonstrated their commitment to international security through landmark events such as the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Cold War, the Iraq War and the global war on terrorism. These members have brought valuable service to the association and the free world, and AFCEA has delivered valuable service to these members.

It is a core theme that a strong international security environment, along with partnerships and relationships that can be called upon in time of need, underwrites everything that the free world does. The industrial base that defined the U.S. economy immediately after World War II has lost its omnipotence and is challenged by overseas competition at the highest levels by authoritarian nations. The defense sector has shrunk to the point where it is no longer where it needs to be. Moving forward, AFCEA can help reverse this trend by shining a bright light on these industrial base shortfalls and the need for a resurgence.

The period in which we find ourselves now may be the most challenging of AFCEA’s history. The free world is threatened by two powerful peer competitors, two rogue states and various international terrorist groups. In light of the international security environment in which we find ourselves today, AFCEA offers an open forum for government, industry and academia to share ideas for addressing the issues confronting them.

The solution will not be easy. Government, industry and academia must develop a much stronger linkage. With the defense sector having shrunk significantly, many of the solutions needed by the Defense Department reside in the private sector. Part of AFCEA’s raison d’etre is to bring these three groups together, and that is more important than ever.

In these difficult times, being an international association is vital for achieving these goals. AFCEA can reach out to NATO, the European Union, Japan, Korea, Latin and South America, Australia and elsewhere in the Indo-Pacific region. These nations are democracies that cannot simply rely on directives by dictators; they must take public opinion into account. AFCEA can be the neutral body that helps foster discussion on key security issues and the development of consensus among the different sectors in the free world.

After 75 years, AFCEA continues to strengthen, having made it through the first part of the COVID pandemic and adjusting its events model to accommodate the new normal. We look to expand our footprint in the Indo-Pacific region and strengthen our relationships with NATO and other countries. As a diverse organization that respects the needs and views of all people, AFCEA strives to be the place where everyone can be comfortable exchanging ideas in all partner countries. The association is on solid ground, and it is primed toward looking forward to the next 75 years.

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