• Wes Benwick

From The Bridge

Thank You for Granting Me the Privilege


In my opening remarks a year ago, I made a point of thanking Rod Porter, legendary president of our council, who brought me to our Board of Directors as a young man 45 years ago. I said that I viewed my service now as an opportunity to "PAY FORWARD" the favor Rod Porter did for me back then. Now, it is appropriate for me to thank all of you for giving me the opportunity to serve this council and to bring to our Board of Directors several stellar young people who will energize us and honor thereby what Rod did for me in his time.


Welcome and Give Thanks for Col. Bill Cousins

There could be no better person to assume the presidency of our council than my brother from another mother, Col. Bill Cousins. His steady hand on our tiller, even for an Army man, will serve us true, I promise.


Looking Forward Toward M&M

Remember the candy bowls on our banquet tables? A year ago, I suggested that our twin action themes going forward should be Membership and Mission. I was thinking then that growing our membership would bring us the means needed to enhance our mission performance. A year later, I think I got that backwards.

We have not been successful attracting new members. I am now convinced this sad fact is a direct result of our having lost focus on our mission. We are great at giving parties and dinners, and our current members love us for doing that. But our current members are decidedly senior. Unless we crack the code on attracting new and younger members, we will soon be holding our annual meetings in a corner booth at Denny's.

In looking for the answer, I have consulted with at least 20 of our more respected leaders. Their uniform response has been, "It's a lost cause, Bill. Younger people are different. They just don't join organizations like the Navy League anymore."


Younger People ARE Different

Then, came the epiphany. Younger people ARE DIFFERENT. The key for us to recognize is that they have little need for socializing with friends through organizations like ours. Their need to feel connected is being met virtually, and quite nicely thank you, through hand-held devices and social media. Then too, their working environments are much more group-oriented and collaborative than we older people experienced in our time. Bottom line: Younger people are awash in socializing! If parties and banquets are all we offer, we are not offering them anything they want or need.


Their Need to Serve is REAL

Conventional wisdom holds that military service does not stand high with younger people. It is true that most did not serve at their time and most do not today. But to say they disapprove of military service is not true. Once I started asking younger people to join our organization, who I thought would make excellent Navy League leaders, their uniform response was to ask "What does the Navy League do anyway?" When I explained to them our three distinct missions, their quick response was, "Sign me up!" Had I answered, "Well, we give great parties . . . "


We Can Offer Them That Exactly What They Want

It began to emerge that for those who passed by military service as not being part of their life's plan, there has remained since a vague sense of having missed something important. We can fill that need! Everything we do that involves direct contact with squared away servicepersons, that provides access to our exotic bases that are off-limits to mere civilians, that puts our members up close to unbelievably charismatic military hardware . . . all of these things provide a feeling of standing with the military, of participating in what the military does, of helping preserve our nation's freedom.

I promise you, my friends these forces are real. They are absolutely consistent with what I have learned about consumer motivation in my forty plus years as a marketing consultant. I am just flabbergasted that it took me so long, the marketing professional, to put it together for our cause.


Defining the Way Forward

So, Mission Enhancement is the key to our survival and growth as a Navy League Council. Socializing, no matter how expertly presented, has not produced the outcome we so desperately need: membership growth. Nor, has it attracted to us outside funders, already aligned with our mission, who would like to support us in doing worthwhile things. We are on a demographically-driven ride to oblivion unless we change our ways.

We simply must enhance our performance of mission!

We are doing quite well with Mission #1: Informing the public, civic leaders and elected officials about the importance of the sea services to our national security and regional economic wellbeing.

We are woefully behind the power curve in Mission #2: Enhancing the living realities and daily morale of active duty servicepersons and their families. Take a look at what other Navy League councils do in this regard, and I promise you'll be ashamed.

We have a strong history in supporting our Sea Cadets as our contribution to the youth activities that define Mission #3. But for years, our Sea Cadets have been stuck in a performance loop that has produced a few wonderful success stories for individual cadets, but has left hundreds of potential young beneficiaries outside. We can take comfort, though, that at our instigation this year, our Sea Cadet leadership has undertaken an internal SWOT evaluation that has produced a plan to triple Sea Cadet membership in three years. Go guys!


Funding the Way Forward

We are fiscally constrained. We will not be able to enhance our performance of mission using the funding sources we have. Yet, unless we enhance our performance of mission, we will wither and die.

The only answer is to go out and recruit businesses, who derive their prosperity from sales to our military in northeast Florida. There are hundreds of them. Together, they do billions of dollars worth of business annually serving our sea services. I propose to call upon them and ask them to support our mission enhancement.


Hence, our New Website

Some of you chafed at my insistence that we throw away our horrible website and replace it with one of award winning caliber. Here's why I pushed so hard. When we approach a high-powered, hot-running business enterprise with the proposition that they should help us fund our mission enhancement, they are either going to check us out online before granting the interview, or they are going to check us out online after we're done. Our preexisting website would have killed the deal before it got started. Now, we will pass that muster.


Developing a Plan

Passing that test will bring us to step two: "What would you do with our money if we were to provide some?" So, we need a menu of possibilities, each backed by a solid plan and a timed projection of funding requirements. I promise you, we'll use the model for staged funding, supporting planned activity growth, that we have quietly developed in the background over this past year for the Black Creek Young Marines. In fact, the BCYM Company may be its first beneficiary.


Connecting with Funders

This is where all of you come into the exercise to save our Navy League council as active participants. We may have the idea, and we may develop the plan, but we will go nowhere without the access. There are those of you out there who DO have the access. Raise your hands. Identify yourselves. Join our team. Have an absolute ball helping us all do a boatload of good. I promise it will be more fun than attending yet another mixer.


Going out on TWO High Notes

My bet is that Col. Cousins will revisit these next two topics in his first column, but I can't leave without at least mentioning them.

We have now completed our Command Adoption agreement with Unmanned Patrol Squadron VUP-19, twin-based at NAS Jacksonville and at NS Mayport. This is groundbreaking! It is a huge contribution to our performance of Mission #2. Thank you, Skipper John LeVoy and to the men and women of VUP-19. Let's get ready to rumble!

Thank you, RADM Sean Buck, for being a stellar keynoter at our Annual Banquet! Your remarks were spot on. Even more than that, your support of our Council's growing friendship with your Fourth Fleet liaison officers has opened the way for our Council to participate in international diplomacy! Now, that's what I call mission enhancement!


Bill Webb, soon to be Immediate Past President

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