MARCHING ON! MODERN TIMES
As the saying goes, time flies when you are having fun. During 2010 Tammy Conkle expressed the feelings of several of her predecessors when she commented that her tenure as President was ‘flying by like a bird while wishing that it moved more like a snail.’ While these were seemingly some of the less controversial years for the Association, they were neither without effort and continuous improvement nor was anyone resting on their laurels.
President Conkle pushed for continuous involvement and communication as she believed that these efforts were central to what continued to make NMFWA so effective within the professional conservation community regarding natural resources management on Defense-administered public lands. She was quick to remind everyone of the importance of informing the non-DoD public outside of Association membership of our contributions to resource conservation and support of military training and readiness missions. While some might find it as somewhat conceited or talking outside of our lane, Tammy remind folks that a part of our responsibility to the Association and because of our positions as DoD Natural Resources Managers was to educate and inspire others so they might follow in our footsteps. Without doubt, she was absolutely correct.
Dr. Rich Fischer brought to his Presidency during 2011-2012 a keen interest and understanding of the importance of where this Association had come from as a basis for where it was headed. He understood the original vision of providing a professional forum for military natural resources managers to gather, exchange ideas and information, and contribute collectively to managing natural resources to support the mission. In understanding these tenants, President Fischer challenged his Board specifically and the membership in general to get more involved, to identify energetic talent, and to serve as Committee and Working Group chairs.
Believing in the importance of providing the membership with the opportunity to learn about our collective history and those who have been responsible for its success, Rich took his interest as a personal responsibility and initiated the first serious attempt in several years at consolidating all information, newsletters, meeting agendas/minutes, notes, letters, these Achieves, etc. that existed in various garages, storerooms, and office file cabinets with the intent of digitizing the entire mess for publication on therevised and updated NMFWA website. He collected much more documentation than he thought existed, and the effort to collate, prioritize, and digitize is ongoing; as it will for a while given our now almost 30 year history.
One of the other things which President Fischer accomplished was to eloquently verbalize the significance of what Defense natural resources managers accomplish on a daily basis in support of the military mission and why we do so. As Rich stated, “lands and waters that our natural resources experts manage are crucial to maintaining realistic and quality training environments that our troops need every day of the year. Whether it be conducting a prescribed burn, spotlight censusing deer at 0300, or dispersing birds on an airfield to reduce Bird and Wildlife Air Strike Hazard (BASH), our installation natural resource managers are on the job to support the DoD military training mission and doing everything possible to provide the most realistic training possible to protect the lives of our military service members.”
Thank you Rich as that reminder is important given that the reality of doing anything less that our very best to sustain those training opportunities is totally unacceptable.
2012-13 were tough and challenging years with President Kirsten Christopherson and her Board of Directors drawing the “shortest straw” that many of us could remember in a long time. Between continuing, if not even more acute budget/personnel cuts, total training/travel restrictions, divergent higher headquarters’ priorities, apathy, and bureaucratic fumbling, NMFWA faced some serious obstacles to continuing professional development and personal interaction opportunities primarily associated with our annual Training Workshop.
Not to be undone, Kristen, her Board, and Program Chair Todd Wills stepped up to the challenges and went to work developing alternative electronic mechanisms (i.e., NMFWA website, teleconference, podcasts, list serves, etc.) whereby individual and Working Group members could continue to interact year-round, even those denied the opportunity to travel to Training Workshops. Only four members physically attended the meeting (only one on official orders).
The mettle of the Association was again tested during late 2013 with the realities of Sequestration. As President McNaughton observed during the furloughs, “Morale hasn’t been this low in a long time, and it seems that we must continue to endure strain and hardship with the current federal shutdown. Staff furloughs, fiscal cuts, and increased demands from the world weigh on all of us heavily. These are the times that can break organizations like ours, those formed out of friendships and discussions, shared drinks and war stories, and a general feeling of camaraderie and shared responsibility. These hardships also solidified our organization and gave it strength. The budget battles of the 1990s, the contract replacement discussions during the same period, and the leverage against our livelihoods from time to time brought energy into our membership and our roles in NMFWA. The difference between option A, the low morale-low response option, and option B, an energized attention to making sure we continue to produce the nation’s most interesting and outstanding public lands, resides with you and what you bring to the organization.”
NMFWA has always been fortunate and prospered by the willingness of its members to ‘suck it up and drive on’ no matter the challenge and more often than not, without compensation. This reality was no different during this challenging government shutdown period as the Board, committees, working groups, and individual members continued to interact and work mission responsibilities previously identified by President McNaughton. Additionally and in keeping with past tradition of being willing to “step out of our supposed lane,” the Association appropriately, ethically, and professionally ensured that at least part of the story regarding sequester furloughs/shutdown impacts to resource management programs, individuals, families and the mission was told.
While funding realities did indeed reduce the overall attendance at the Training Workshop during 2013, it had no real impact on the continuing quality and professionalism that both went into preparing for the event and the value received by those that were able to attend either in person or, when available, electronically. Another unique aspect that became even more evident during these “lean years” was the change in identifiable DoD Branch affinity by the membership that attended.
In our early years NMFWA membership was numerically “Active Army heavy.” As one might expect, those same numbers normally reflected the majority of attendees at our Annual Training workshops. But changes were taking place with attendance growing within the Navy, Marine, Air Force, and Army Reserve/National Guard sectors while same declined from within the Active Army component. Depending on which component you were aligned with, this growth curve was a welcome addition and/or a cause for concern.
Although the Army was wrestling with extreme human and equipment cost realities from multiple deployments during the War on Terror, continued natural resources professional development was critical and should have been required. Investment in management personnel responsible for providing for stewardship of the resource base required for sustainable mission accomplishment into the future should have been maintained. The result is the current unacceptable lack of natural resource program support. As this Association has proven in the past and despite the challenges, enhanced engagement by the membership can and will help to “educate and inspire” in support of the wildlife profession and our nation’s defense.
When Dave McNaughton became President in 2013, he brought with him a ruck sack full of hands-on experience based on the preceding lean years. Additionally, he recognized that those lean years were far from over. He challenged the organization to not lose our collective spirit, our drive, and/or our creativity as an organization. He realized that as an Association, we would face more organizational and operational challenges.
His first leadership directive to address those challenges was to call for every member of the Association to get creative and energized and to work and get involved. For the Board, Dave got even more specific as he empowered them to review all of our programs and activities to identify efficiencies and suggested improvements to how the Association conducted business, recognized performance, informed the membership, broadened partnerships, and served the conservation community and DoD.
It has always been a source of personal pride (and probably a slight smile) for me [Tom Warren, Archives Chair], while attending the North American Conference, to look around meeting rooms at the number of NMFWA members that were also there. Often our membership has represented the majority of any professional affiliation in attendance with the upper echelons of resource conservation leadership from other state, federal, international, and NGO organizations and activities. There has been much said previously within this document regarding our history, affiliation, and partnership with WMI. I will not restate that history here other than to say once again that this Association has “done good,” that we have earned our credibility as professional public land stewards, and in doing so have done Larry Jahn, all of the NMFWA founding members, and ourselves individually right proud.
As expressed above, 2014 was both a successful and challenging year for the Association in many regards. However, one challenge which was unanticipated was the not so subtle reminder of our individual frailties. Unfortunately, the NMFWA family lost two of our own with the passing of Past Presidents James “Doc” Bailey (2004-2005) in May and Richard “Rick” Griffiths (1997-1998) in July. These gentlemen along with Larry Adams (1988-1990) ‘done good,’ and we greatly appreciate your dedication, leadership, and service to this Association. Keep watch and we’ll see you again on the high ground.
Recognizing that continuing DoD travel and training restrictions will continue to cause many members to be unable to attend the Association’s annual Training Workshops, 2014 found President Todd Wills building upon the work started with Past President McNaughton regarding making NMFWA a ‘12 month a year’ organization. This objective focused on working continuously to communicate among the membership, problem solve internally, increase the membership, and provide opportunity for the “new generation of natural resources practitioners that have not even heard of NMFWA, yet could benefit from the support we can provide.”
Mentorship of the new folks to our community has always been a strong suite of the Association. Todd recognized this as a continuing opportunity and challenged the membership to get engaged in identifying these individuals and then help mentor same to “better understand what role they play in both managing the lands and all its components with making sure that planes fly, ships sail, and tanks roll.”
Providing new Defense personnel with the understanding that by joining NMFWA that they are not alone, that there is strength in numbers, and that there exist various communication forums for the exchange of ideas and recommendations to solve problems enhances both individual management skills and the military mission.
An ongoing challenge for any organization is keeping the membership list current. Even in this age of technological advancement, updating same is not a mission for the faint of heart, and it can become a very frustrating endeavor very quickly. President Wills personally took on this task and has initiated what is anticipated to become a much more current and accurate rendering and accounting of our overall membership; at least from the perspective of those individuals who will respond.
Much to the surprise of many, attendance at the 2015 Annual Training Session far exceeded most, if not all, of the previous events. Some 223 individuals were in attendance with the majority of these representing the Navy/Marines and Army Reserves/National Guard. Once again, individuals from the active Army component were obviously absent due to travel/training restrictions and a too-late “approved attendees” list being distributed by the Army (only three Department of Army civilians attended). Demonstrating professional dedication, several of those individuals in attendance from the Army, sucked it up and paid their own way to the Training Session.
In addition to what was considered another exceptionally well done, professionally competent, and mission relevant Training Session, this year’s event also realized a tenacious five year effort of Past President Kerns and his committee with induction of the first class of the NMFWA Hall of Fame. This first induction was composed of the Wildlife Management Institute, Congressman Robert Lee Fulton Sikes, Dr. Laurence R. Jahn, and Ms. Christina Ramsey. While not to be repeated here, the specifics and reach of each of these inductees can be reviewed within the minutes of the Association meeting. Suffice it to say that each represents a most unique and individually significant aspect associated with NMFWA. Without same, the very existence as well as history of accomplishment of this Association would have been vastly different.
As President Coralie Cobb took the leadership reigns of the NMFWA in 2015, many challenges associated with maintaining the operational relevancy of Association remain. Yet, one should feel good about the future given the impressive number of and energy represented by the individuals who attended the annual Training Session. There were a lot of first-timers who were excited to find other people addressing common issues and concerns unique to Defense. As Coralie said, “This is what NMFWA is all about. As natural resources managers, we could attend any number of meetings to talk about natural resources management but only NMFWA provides the opportunity to discuss natural resources management with people who face the unique challenges of managing natural resources on a military installation.”
So… here’s to our next leaders, and the next, next, next, etc. It’s your turn to take care of our nation’s training and testing lands, waters, and air, and those natural resources that depend on them.
Enjoy the challenges, victories, and friendships… as we who have before you!
We would be remiss if we (as we wrap this publication up in summer 2015) don’t remember those Past Presidents who have passed on. Tom and Gene fondly remember Larry Adams, Rick Griffiths, and Doc Bailey. They helped define the National Military Fish and Wildlife Association and its mission.
Yes, this history emphasizes those who have served as Presidents of our Association. For whatever reason, this document was created around their terms of office. As we said in the Introduction, our goal is to publish what we wrote over the past almost 40 years, not fix or add to it.
It is for somebody else to add to this document, create a photo archive, or otherwise improve/correct this historical document (as has been recommended by some of our reviewers). Our Association history is chock full of non-Presidents who have stepped up to the plate when the going got tough. You will see some of their names in the below appendix. Others simply “did” without fanfare, awards, or Association titles. Thanks for all of you and your efforts.
While us Old Timers…..Gray Bearded…..Good Old Boys, whose scars have scars, are wrapping up this installment of the NMFWA Achieves, please know that we are grateful for whatever part we have played and managed to hold on to as you all have made this Association what it has become. Personally, I [Tom] want you to know that while Past President Stout always was and always will be the better writer, I have enjoyed being “Tonto to his Lone Ranger.” No matter if it was in some smoke-filled back room or the large conference halls where our members meet today, we had each other’s back. That reality and commitment has played out countless times and between/among countless other individuals that equally share in the history of this Association (see note 1).
In many regards, this Association has indeed been fortunate. Our leaders and members have been at the right place at the right time, and we needed to be. Upon reflection and appreciation of history, because of our members’ shared commitment, tenacity, professionalism, and dedication to the military mission and the stewardship of the resources upon which that mission will always unequivocally depend, we survived and outlasted those that long ago thought we would fail. And go away… not happening! Not gonna happen!
Note 1 :
Gene here… haven’t written any official archives entries since Tom took over in 1997 (when I deleted some of my early years’ dribble). However, as editor and organizer of this history, I get the last word. Very simply, I wish all of you a friendship such as I have enjoyed with Tom over the past 35+ years. Defense natural resources are in a better place due to our friendship, and life is good with a friend like Tom… I-CAN!