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Annapolis Commissioning Week – The Model for Civil-Military Relations

The long-honored tradition of Commissioning Week in Annapolis is upon us.  It is an annual event marked by legacy and prestige. Blue Angels. Proud parents. Thousands of happy families flooding the capital of Maryland.

Commissioning week serves as a consistent reminder for all of us about the health of civil-military relations.  The trusting and beloved relationship between the military and civilians in communities across the country.  For non-military leaders and communicators, it provides an example of the bond we seek to establish between your business and your community.

Annapolis IS the Naval Academy. The Naval Academy IS Annapolis.  The institution is embedded into the fabric of the town.  Now…a lot of other important things happen in the historic capital of Annapolis.  The business of the state of Maryland takes place right here in the Statehouse. There are many successful businesses here.  And to a great many people – with respect to Newport, RI. - Annapolis is the sailing capital of the U.S.  This is a successful city. 

But would it be what it is without the military presence here? The Naval Academy breathes new life into this city every year with 1200 new plebes (freshmen) from all over the country. The Naval Academy typically brings in students from every Congressional district in the country every year.  Those are 1200 new and genuine perspectives. 1200 new families who eventually call Annapolis their home away from home.

And every May, those 1200 plebes eventually become graduates. New Ensigns in the Navy and Second Lieutenants in the United States Marine Corps.  And those parents and families from around the country…from every Congressional district converge on this sleepy town on the banks of the Severn; ensuring Annapolis becomes a better community. 

Now, the Academy – and the Navy writ large – deserve credit for this special relationship.  They do a great amount to help the community.  On snow days, the Mids descend upon the city streets to dig out the residents.  We used to call this evolution, “The Mid Dig.” The Midshipmen average more than 24,000 hours per year of community service in and around Annapolis.  And the citizens love it. 

Military installations and military communicators around the world can take a lesson from this dynamic.  And they can take notes about the concerted effort the Academy makes to ingratiate its ethos into this city.  Successful businesses can learn from this.  Make the surrounding community a part of your success. 

People generally attribute Starbucks’ global success to the genuine efforts they made with Seattle when they were just a small business.  L.L. Bean embraced Maine and made the surrounding communities part of their success.  Anheuser-Busch is well-known in the St. Louis area to invest an amazing amount of time and resources into cultivating and maintaining the relationships with their community.  As it says prominently on the homepage of their website, “We bring the same dedication and commitment we have for brewing great American beer to supporting the communities we call home. From showing up when disaster strikes, to making our communities safer and more responsible, to being good stewards of land and water, our Dream is unwavering.”

It is critical that Community Relations – “COMREL” in military parlance – stay at the center of every communicator’s mission and vision.  We, as a military, cannot perform our missions without the good people of the towns and cities which host the hundreds of military bases around the country.  The same goes for small businesses and major corporations and state government departments.  We all need to make a more concerted effort to help those communities. Habitat for Humanity, Girls on the Run, Read Across America…there are myriad options out there for military bases, companies and organizations to give back to the communities around them.

If you’re a communicator out there, a base/installation commander or a corporate CEO – please keep trying to make the community around your base and area of influence, your center of gravity. Make them part of your mission. Their happiness and belief in you is central to your success.

Annapolis and the Naval Academy figured out this symbiotic relationship a long time ago.  Commissioning Week is now “a thing.” It is a tradition. It is special.

I implore each who happen upon these words to find ways to build relationships, traditions, and meaningful times with your communities.  Thank them for their support. Celebrate them.  It doesn’t always have to be through Blue Angels shows…it can be with gratitude, compassion, a show of service and giving back.  Start now. No one is getting any younger.  And there is only a finite amount of time to make your community know you appreciate them.

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