It’s the largest single site employer in the whole state. Its history has been witness to early Wright Brothers test flights and a military installation that dates to World War I. It’s an obvious asset to the region for the Air Force Museum (fingers crossed for the shuttle) as well as cutting-edge technical, aerospace, and research advances.
I have sung the praises of the Base and understood its major importance in both the economic viability of our region and for aerospace technology worldwide (you can thank my engineering husband who just broke a world record for his work on a scram jet engine for that one), but I never really got the differences of the alphabet soup that is WPAFB (be it AFIT, AFRL, NASIC, WISK or LMNOP).
Here I am – trying to be an info liaison for YP groups in the region. Hopefully this blog is a resource for people who want to get involved, YP orgs who are looking for potential collaborations, or anyone who’s just curious. And I’ve advertised Base events like monthly socials for the Young AFCEAns, volunteer opportunities through the Junior Force Council and discussions by the WP Networking Association. But you know what – I still didn’t really get it. Oh – you mysterious base with your numerous gates, haunted hotels, and alien ships in hiding – I am here to learn about the resources for the YPs behind the gates. So – this is for anyone who has asked a new friend, “So – where do you work?” and your eyes glaze over a little bit when they answer “the Base.”
The Young AFCEAns
Why am I talking to them first? Well – I thought they might be a pretty good “gateway” to the Base since members of the Young AFCEAns can work on or off Base in any contracting organization that has a relationship with the Base. Also – they are the YP arm of AFCEA (The Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association) – so you can guess that they have a pretty informative Web page. I was able to gather information on the people served and the benefits for the Young AFCEAns. At least I thought I had them figured out, until I talked to Casey Weinstein, the local chapter president and figured out that they are so much more.
The Young AFCEAns (also known as YACs) are AFCEA members under the age of 40. But they are also a distinct unit within AFCEA. Sure, they network with fellow professionals and are active in the chapter, but they also work together as YACs to mentor at schools, host tech events and judge local science fairs. They take advantage of specific mentoring activities available only to YACs – career development, leadership development, and access to senior leaders in the field (the kind of access that otherwise wouldn’t be available).
Anyone CAN be a YAC, and Weinstein encourages all YPs to check them out. So many businesses in the region, even if they don’t deal directly with the government, partner with other organizations that do contract with the government. And maybe you’re not in IT, but Weinstein tells the story of a marketing associate who started coming to YAC events because her company was considering expanding into the IT market. The networking and social opportunities through YAC proved helpful, informative, and even fun.
When I asked what exactly they do and who they serve, Weinstein explained that they’re an advocacy and networking association focused on information technology and the government – most members are government employees, contractors, or people who want to break into the industry. And for anyone who thinks “IT” is a little broad, I asked Weinstein for some specifics: they have members who produce modeling and simulation software, build web applications, create hardware and software sharepoints, and they feature many service providers (like database administrators).
The most popular events for local YACs are the monthly networking events. They feature free food and drinks (always a plus), and they provide a great atmosphere for YPs in the industry to network with one another, local businesses, and senior leadership in the industry. Weinstein also highlights their outreach work with local universities. With the support of Senator Brown’s offices, the YACs have been featured (along with other YP groups) on campus panel discussions. Many college kids may not know about the numerous opportunities in the region for IT and aerospace contracting work, so YAC makes a major effort to get the word out.
Weinstein is especially proud of the relationship YAC has with the AFCEA chapter. Although YAC exists as its own unit to attract new members and offer professional development opportunities, their members are fully integrated into the local chapter. The past YAC chair is now the membership chair for AFCEA and Weinstein chaired the AFCEA Valentine’s Ball – the major fundraiser for AFCEA that provides scholarships for local high school and college students. The chapter taps the YACs to be involved on a larger level, and they show respect for a job well done. They just sent Weinstein to San Diego to accept the Distinguished Young AFCEAns Award (one of only 15 globally!); the chapter flew him out, picked up the tab, and provided him with a great opportunity to meet a lot of new people.
The YACs are there to hook young professionals into the thriving aerospace industry in our region, and Weinstein has a very strong perspective of life in Dayton. He explains, “More money comes through WPAFB than any other military installation in the world (other then the Pentagon). There is a lot of growth and opportunity in the region because of the growth of the industry. Dayton is the place to be for someone in this profession.”
While the Young AFCEAns are reaching out to everyone to highlight the opportunities of the aerospace industry. There’s another group on Base that’s reaching out to serve a pretty specific need.
Wright-Patterson AFB Junior Force Council
The Wright-Patt JFC works to offer programming relevant to all YPs on Base, but it’s only part of a larger YP involvement structure in place. Individual Junior Force Councils exist for many programs or directorates, and those smaller JFCs often host their own events. For example, the Air Force Research Lab’s (AFRL) Propulsion Directorate launched an outreach program to address the lack of new engineers through volunteers who visit local schools to increase student interest in STEM careers. Or there is the Air Force Material Command (AFMC) Junior Force Council that hosted a tour for its members. Many of the directorates across Base offer professional development and networking opportunities through individual Junior Force Councils (JFCs), and each JFC sends a member to sit on the collective Wright-Patt JFC. It’s a nice structure – people at the local level determine what meets the needs of their members, but their voice rises up to the overall JFC to make sure there’s open communication and the WPJFC can meet larger needs.
I spoke to Kristy Roberts – president of the WFJFC. Locally born and raised, Roberts completed her undergrad and MBA at Wright State before joining the Base in a contracting career. In leading the WPJFC, she works to provide networking experiences for civilian and military (enlisted and officer) YPs across the Base who have 10 years of service or less. These events provide participants the opportunity to interact with one another and senior leaders whom they may otherwise not meet.
Since the smaller JFCs focus on the happy hours, industry-specific events, and directorate-specific programming, the WPJFC only hosts approximately two or three large, Base-wide events per year. Launching soon is the popular “Young Guns vs. Old Pistols.” This is a wellness/sporting competition between the JFC members and senior leaders on Base. Over the course of three months, they compete in 6 events. Other major events include a golf tournament fundraiser and open tour of the Base for regional YPs.
Also in the works is a potential speaker series. Although most WPJFC events are limited to Base personnel (mostly due to the fact that the rest of us can’t get through the gates – except a great story I’ll tell you sometime when I accidentally just zoomed right by the guards, but I digress… ), Roberts is hoping to open some of these speaker events to the wider YP community. Roberts also shows her “Dayton Girl” colors as she advocates on Base for YP events regionally. She has started a regular communication with JFC members to inform them of opportunities in Dayton for both social and professional networking.
At a very basic level, the WPJFC provides an opportunity for YPs to figure out how the base works. Roberts tells the story of when she sent an email out to a large group of people. First on the list is the person that the email was most relevant to. Sounds logical, right? Not with Base logic – the strict chain of command is so important to military protocol that it must be followed even in sending an email – you address it to the highest officer first and then go down the list in level of seniority. Things like that aren’t obvious to employees (especially civilian) new to the Base, so the JFC provides a friendly atmosphere to learn the ropes. And it’s not just about the “rules.” The AF culture is a different beast – if civilians better understand it, they can better communicate within it and learn how to succeed.
The Base respects the work of the WPJFC and their goal of “preparing the leaders of tomorrow.” Participants in the JFCs are able to claim “alternate duty location” while at JFC events (meaning they don’t have to take leave or time off from work). Senior leadership at the Base appreciates the work of the WPJFC as they bridge the gap between new recruits and more seasoned AF employees.
Roberts shares what she believes is the most important aspect that the WPJFC offers its members – opportunities to develop their own relationships with senior leaders. Mentoring is such an asset, and Roberts praises the mentor she has met through JFC events. Mentors provide insight into other areas on Base and can even help put the daily battles into perspective as YPs are advancing in their careers.
I asked Roberts what she hopes for as she plans the next year of WPJFC programming. Her goal is to involve more enlisted and military YPs. She explains that the career paths of civilians are defined differently than the career paths of their military colleagues, so the military YPs haven’t always seen the need to take advantage of the professional development and mentoring opportunities that are offered. Roberts hopes to change that and create a WPJFC where everyone is represented and active.
It was a great opportunity to learn a little more about who’s who and the different organizations that serve the many YPs on Base. I was unable to speak to anyone from the WP Networking Association or the Company Grade Officer Program – two groups that serve a fairly specific constituency on Base. Still, I’m appreciative of the time and information Weinstein and Roberts shared with me. The Base may be a different world, but we all have the same needs, and it’s great to hear that these leaders are making it happen for YPs on Base.