In the days of the ancient navalists Themistocles and Pericles, men with an interest in naval affairs and national defense surely would have frequented the Agora with their fellow Athenians. To discuss the specifics related to war upon the sea, however, they gathered in small groups in the alleys around the Neosoikoi , the massive ship-sheds that lined the seawalls at Pireaus. With triremes and the equipment of ancient naval warfare stored nearby, they would have discussed everything from the importance of finding a skilled steersman for their vessels to the strategic implications of Spartan and Persian foreign policy.
Today there are a number of virtual online areas that surround our modern Neosoikoi, from USNI’s online offerings to the naval blogosphere’s established writers and other growing thought centers. However, one of the great things about being a member of the Naval Institute is that the organization can still bring people together physically to meet and discuss our shared naval interests, just as the Athenians did centuries ago.
This past Tuesday USNI held its second “Members Event” of 2012 at the Virginia Aquarium in Virginia Beach. The timing was coordinated with the Joint Warfighter 2012 Conference and offered the opportunity for speakers from the conference, staff from the Institute, and the general membership to meet one another. Accompanied by the occasional roar of F/A-18’s entering the break at NAS Oceana and the view of the shark tank, we talked over cocktails and finger food in a decidedly maritime environment. The staff did a wonderful job setting up the Event, and helped facilitate introductions and discussions throughout the evening. Editors from the journals and the press circulated in search of ideas and to talk with authors. The online staff explained the new projects that are being rolled out and built excitement about the Institute’s future. However from where my wife Charity and I stood, with one of Captain Buffet’s lagers in hand, the real success of the evening was the open forum that allowed members to meet members.
The membership of USNI is broad, and brings real intellectual diversity to any discussion. The Event gave the membership the chance to meet face to face and allow our small talk to lead us into discussions of today’s military challenges. Where else would you find one of the nation’s leading counter-insurgency theorists discussing shifting strategic resources with a Petty Officer, Second Class? A few steps away a Lieutenant Commander talked with a retired Major General and former War College Commandant about online education reforms, writing for professional journals, and professional military education. At the other end of the room a Lieutenant (Junior Grade) exchanged thoughts on writing, thinking, and the future of online discussion with a retired Navy Captain and leader in the think tank community.
There were some active Flag Officers milling about with their spouses and dates, and their involvement in USNI (and maybe a chance to pet the stingrays) is great to see. However, the genuine conversations between junior military personnel and established thought leaders were the highlight of the evening. After having the chance to meet in person, many business cards and email addresses were exchanged. Even a few cell phone numbers and the names of twitter accounts were traded. The discussions are sure to continue, a few of them probably popping up in the pages of Proceedings or here on the Blog in the future. Membership brings you the great magazines, the discounts on books, and other reasons to join The Naval Institute. However, there’s real value in that little bit of physical space behind the Neosoikoi that Tuesday night’s Members Event demonstrated. The members are the strength of the Institute, and we’ll return to that space as often as USNI creates it.