By Kari Hawkins, USAG Redstone August 8, 2014
HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- The strength of the local Army network has scored another big win for the Redstone-Huntsville Chapter of the Association of the U.S. Army.
For the 10th time in recent history, the chapter has been named top AUSA chapter worldwide. With the exception of 2009, those wins have occurred in consecutive years.
The Redstone-Huntsville Chapter has made those wins with a strategy that has little to do with the organization and a whole lot to do with the Soldiers, retirees and veterans, Army civilians and contractors, Army-connected youth programs and Army-connected families living in North Alabama.
"We have always said our goal is not to be the best chapter, but to do the best things for the military community we serve," chapter president Kris McBride said.
"At 3rd Region meetings, other chapters will ask what the key is to our success when we talk about our programs. A lot of our success depends on the support of this community."
Of course, as in years past, the email announcing yet another win did come during the week of July 21, and McBride had the pleasure of telling the chapter's more than 2,500 individual members and more than 300 corporate members that, yes, once again, the Redstone-Huntsville Chapter came in first place as the best chapter.
"When we are out in the community, we get a lot of questions about whether we will be the best chapter again this year. I knew we had a good year this past year in meeting our goals, but you still hold your breath until you find out," she said.
"We had another good year and did some things we hadn't done before."
McBride, who is in her second year of a two-year term as chapter president, was joined by executive vice president John Wright in expressing an appreciation to a large group of volunteers, other military-connected organizations in the local community and Team Redstone leadership for sustaining the Redstone-Huntsville Chapter's excellent standing at the international level.
"We do the best we can according to the programs we lay out each year," Wright said.
"We believe if we focus on what our mission is, then everything else will take care of itself. What sets us apart is our chapter leadership, and how very much involved and engaged they are. We stand upon the shoulders of those who came before us in the 50-plus years of this organization."
Besides being named AUSA's Best Chapter Overall in the large category for 2014, the local chapter also won first place in the following categories for large chapters: Best Chapter Newsletter, Greatest Percentage Increase in Corporate Membership, Greatest Percentage Increase in Retiree Membership, Greatest Government Civilian Employee Membership and Most Active in Pursuit of Objectives.
The chapter was runner-up in the following categories for large chapters: Best General Membership Meeting, Greatest Percentage Increase in Membership and Greatest Reserve Component Increase. The chapter received an honorable mention in the large chapter category for: Greatest Percentage Increase Government Civilian Employee Membership.
At the annual AUSA membership meeting set for Oct. 13-15 in Washington, D.C., the chapter will also receive streamers for: Corporate Member Support, Reserve Component Support, Army Birthday, Family Programs, Institute of Land Warfare, ROTC/JROTC/OCS Support, Take the Hill, Support to Recruiting Command, Army History, Star Chapter, Special Awards, Excellence in Corporate Membership Growth, President's Club, Gold Merit Chapter, Superior Chapter, Chapter of Excellence, Member Communications, Excellence in Reserve Component Growth, Vietnam Commemorative Partnership Program, Continuous Membership and President's Challenge-Flash Goal.
"As a large chapter, we compete with chapters from installations like Fort Hood (Texas), Fort Carson (Colorado) and Fort Bragg (North Carolina). The size of a chapter is based on the number of memberships," McBride said.
"There have been a couple years when we have tied with other chapters for Best Chapter Overall. But, for the most part, we have been the only top winner for 10 years starting in 2004."
Among the programs that led to the chapter's success for 2014 was hosting the AUSA Winter Symposium in Huntsville in February, with the Army Materiel Command as the featured command.
"We were recognized for hosting that conference and for everything that led up to it," Wright said. "Having it in Huntsville was finalized last summer, so we had a reception at the annual meeting in D.C. to introduce our local community partners to AUSA. At that event, we promoted Huntsville as the destination for AUSA Winter.
"We did two things for AUSA Winter that was unique. First, our chapter provided a significant level of support with a number of volunteers who assisted with the event. And, two, we had a Winter Blast Off Bash where the local community welcomed national AUSA to Huntsville."
The shift of AUSA Winter Symposium was quite a coup in the first place, as the event had been hosted in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, for the past several years. In Huntsville, AUSA Winter experienced quite a significant jump in attendees that broke previous attendance records.
"The AUSA Winter Symposium was four times as successful here than anywhere else in terms of attendees," McBride said. "And having AUSA national leadership here in our community really meant a lot for us. It was the first time for many of them to visit Huntsville. They really were able to see the strength of our membership, and they were very complimentary of the entire experience."
So complimentary, in fact, that Huntsville has been chosen for a second time to host the conference in 2015, although it has been renamed AUSA Global Force Symposium and Exposition. It will be held March 31 to April 2.
"With the changing funding environment and the relocation of the Army Materiel Command to Huntsville, it just made sense to bring AUSA to where the target audience was," Wright said of the decision to bring the symposium to Huntsville.
While the AUSA Winter Symposium became the centerpiece of the Redstone-Huntsville Chapter's 2013-14 year, the chapter also "provided an outstanding level of programs for our target audience in this community, many of which put significant emphasis on DA civilians," McBride said.
Those programs include the DA Leadership Summit, DA Awards Dinner, a National Guard educational opportunity program, a series of educational programs focused on young Army professionals and a member education program.
"We want to make sure our members understand the impact our organization has on the Army and the people in the Army. We want them to assist us in providing good grassroots support for the Army," McBride said. "We want them to know how important it is for AUSA to have a strong voice in Congress for the Army.
"We have been spending time this past year discussing how to remain current and relevant to the Army workforce and our membership. Some of our programs we have done for years and years and, although they have been successful, we can't stay the same. We must change and grow with our membership."
During the last 11 years of top chapter awards, Team Redstone has, indeed, changed a lot due to the shifting of commands in relationship to the Base Realignment and Closure, to Army organizational restructuring, and to the impact the Global War on Terrorism has had on the Arsenal and its missions.
"The demographics have changed here and we need to look at how that impacts our programs," Wright said.
With the loss of a significant enlisted Soldier presence with BRAC 2005, the chapter has focused more on reaching out to various other Army groups -- the Reserves and Alabama National Guard, JROTC programs, and satellite programs in Anniston and the Shoals.
The local chapter also remains active with partner organizations such as the North Alabama Veterans and Fraternal Organizations Coalition and the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber of Commerce in communitywide events and ceremonies, including the Armed Forces Celebration Week, Veterans Week and Memorial Day.
"We couldn't do any of this without our members and corporate members," Wright said. "We are fortunate all around that we have a strong membership that brings the resources we need to support our programs, an outstanding executive committee and an outstanding board of directors that is a cross section of our community.
"We are blessed with being able to participate in a community that really supports the military and all things associated with the military."
McBride said her time as president has allowed her to see for herself what a difference it makes to have committed volunteers running an organization.
"I have been overwhelmed with the number of people willing to help with our programs," she said. "This really takes a team effort and the number of volunteers we have has really been heartwarming to me."
As the leaders of the Redstone-Huntsville Chapter continue to find new ways of supporting the local Army community, they are also up to a little bit of fun and to putting their reputation on the line for the Army. Case in point, this will be the first year that the chapter fields a team for the Armed Forces Celebration Week's softball exhibition Aug. 8 at the Metro Kiwanis Sportsplex beginning at 5 p.m. against Team Redstone.
"We hope our membership will come out and root us on," McBride said. "I hope we go out there and do it right, or at least have a good time."