October 2, 2020
Fellow AFA Leaders,
As we collectively work to sustain and forge the future of our Association, I want you to be clear on my view of our Association and what drives me as Chairman of the Board. First let me offer you some perspective that I believe is critically important:
“We’re at an inflection point, and we can’t defer change. We have a window of opportunity to change, to control and exploit the air domain to the standard our nation expects and requires of its Air Force. If we don’t change, if we fail to adapt, we risk losing.”
“We have two options, we can admire the problem and talk about how tough it’s going to be, how hard the decision will be to make, or we can take action. I vote for the latter.”
“This sense of urgency is one of the most important elements if we are to carry out the nation’s National Defense Strategy and prepare to protect America and its allies in a high-end fight. In the nine months that we have spent building the Space Force, our focus has been on finding ways to go faster, to stay ahead of our adversaries, and to safeguard America’s security and prosperity now and into the future.”
These are direct quotes from our new Air Force Chief of Staff and our Chief of Space Operations. They apply equally well to our Air Force Association.
Here is another quote from General Brown: “Folks don’t want to change once they’re in their comfort zone. You’ve got to have a forcing function that drives change.”
Ladies and gentlemen, today our AFA faces multiple “forcing functions” including declining membership, declining contributions, aging infrastructure, and the need for a more effective business model and governance structure in order to compete for funds and influence on behalf of our Air and Space Forces. Collectively these “forcing functions” compel us to “drive change” throughout our Association.
To help navigate our course, in the next few weeks we will deliver our next 5-year Strategic Plan. Our Plan is a tool or means by which we can face up to our challenges – or fail to, and fail our Air and Space Forces in the process. Our Plan will be a “call for action,” not just another document to transfer to a dormant outlook file or collect dust on a shelf. Our Plan will call for us to examine who we are as an Association, what we stand for, and to determine how we can and must improve to fulfill our grand Vision and Mission across our nation. Our Plan will be a call for growth … growth in leadership, growth in influence, growth in membership, and growth in revenue to support the multiple facets of our Association which facilitate our Mission. We, the leaders of this Association, must act, and our actions must be definitively different than we have been accustomed to for the past several years. It’s time to move out of our “comfort zone.”
Our most recent CSAF, General Goldfein said, “the need for a strong AFA is just as important today as it was in 1946.” Similar to 1946, we are now advocating for a new Service, the US Space Force, which like our Air Force is significantly under resourced to meet the requirements of the National Security Strategy. We can help. While the leaders of the Department of the Air Force often can be constrained from fully advocating for their Services’ needs, we AFA leaders are not. We can and must step up more than ever before to strengthen our Education, Advocacy and Support for Airmen and Space Professionals. Our nation’s public education system is failing to produce the students and workforce with Aerospace and STEM skills required to sustain our National Security. Through our professional and volunteer programs and activities, we must assert the need to improve our nation’s community schools, technical colleges and universities. The threats and challenges our nation faces today in 2020 and beyond are similar, but different from when our Association was formed 73 years ago. In many ways, we are under greater threat. We must think, focus, collaborate and act more boldly than ever before.
As our Strategic Planning Committee works to finalize our Strategic Plan, I ask that we not get “wrapped around the axle” with hearsay and divergent views regarding what changes we may need to make in terms of organization, governing authority, roles and responsibilities, technology transformation, professional staffing, facility requirements, and more. We must examine our Association at every level and determine how best to change for the better. A new Strategic Plan is crucial and putting it off will not advance our cause. While we have and can be proud of the many great attributes of our Association, we cannot ignore our many great challenges, many of which directly impact and inhibit our ability to carry out our Mission. And make no mistake: Our Vision and Mission drive my thoughts and actions every day, as I take seriously the position and responsibility with which you have entrusted me.
One final point … I do not now, nor will I ever, view our organization as either “field centric” or “Washington centric.” I view us as a single National Association of volunteers and professional staff, drawn from all walks of life, cooperatively working across our great nation to advance our mission in support of the Air and Space Forces. Many of us served and are serving in uniformed service; many did not and are not; many volunteer in chapters, states and regions across our nation, while many others serve by other means of “time, talent and fortune.” All of our members are equally important to our righteous cause.
When General Jimmy Doolittle announced the establishment of our Air Force Association in January 1946, and explained that it would be based on a “grass-roots structure, with affiliates on local, state, and regional levels…”, he did not direct or intend that our Association be limited to only “field” activities or primarily governed by “field” leaders. The genesis of our Air Force Association dates to August 1945, when United States Army Air Forces General Henry H. Arnold asked an executive of Eastman Kodak, Edward Peck Curtis, to create an organization among veterans returning from World War II that would promote airpower and the cause of a separate Air Force. Curtis held an organizing meeting in New York City on October 12, 1945, to create a nonprofit to achieve Arnold’s objective. His co-founders were men of great stature and influence, including John Allard, Everett Cook, James H. Doolittle, Deering Howe, Rufus Rand, Sol Rosenblatt, Julian Rosenthal, James M. “Jimmy” Stewart, Lowell P. Weicker, Sr., Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney, and John Hay Whitney. These giants humbled themselves to work with each other. They were great men of military and industrial fame who were used to telling people what to do and having them reply in the affirmative. Yet they worked together and did not let their disagreements get in the way of achieving the overall objective. Nor, for that matter, should we. I suggest you research them, as I have, and others who served on the first Board of Directors, including a Medal of Honor recipient, Technical Sergeant Forest Vosler, and a B-24 ball turret gunner, Sergeant Merryl Frost. These and other great and noble Americans, some well-known and others lesser, have led our National Association admirably throughout our history. Their spirit was one of teamwork and cooperation. Ours must be the same. Truly, “we stand on the shoulders of giants.” We owe it to them to live up to their legacy.
For this and more, I am humbled and honored to serve as the Chairman of the Board of this great Association, and I cannot thank each and every one of you enough for your equally dedicated service, commitment, leadership and friendship as we collectively continue to sustain and forge the future of our Association.
Gerald Murray, USAF (ret)
AFA Chairman of the Board