"Community Relations programs are associated with the interaction between
NATO military installations in NATO member states and their surrounding civilian communities.
These programs can take the form of addressing issues of interest to
and fostering relations with the general public, business."
[NATO Military Public Affairs Policy]
Supreme Allied Command Transformation's main Community Relation event is the annual Norfolk NATO Festival when – since 1953 – the City of Norfolk honours NATO and its member nations.
Model NATO Challenge
This year, 29 students from Hampton Roads high schools and Virginia Wesleyan University were selected to participate in a mock global crisis simulation, confronting issues facing today’s 29-member NATO Alliance. This was the fifth year that Virginia Wesleyan University hosted the event.
Following the selection process, student diplomats were assigned a NATO Nation and mentor - a military officer currently serving with NATO’s Allied Command Transformation. The international mentor prepared their student diplomat for the challenge through organized study sessions focused on their country’s culture, military resources and political backgrounds.
Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Transformation Admiral Manfred Nielson provided opening remarks for the event, emphasizing NATO’s strong partnership with the Norfolk NATO Festival Committee, Virginia Wesleyan University and the Norfolk community as a whole.
“NATO’s Allied Command Transformation continues to be committed to working with the local community here in Hampton Roads,” said Nielson. “Through school visits, various high-level conferences, volunteer projects and upcoming outreach opportunities during the Norfolk NATO Festival, we are happy to live and work alongside our American friends.”
Admiral Nielson also expressed his gratitude for the students’ and mentors’ dedication leading up to this year’s challenge.
“I hope that you all learn about the challenges that we can face as an Alliance, but I hope you also learn about true accomplishment,” said Nielson. “Your participation today as student diplomats only makes our Alliance stronger and our future brighter.”
During the challenge, student diplomats worked together to address a mock crisis scenario such as piracy, immigration or another global issues that could potentially impact the Alliance. Student diplomats were judged on their leadership and diplomacy skills, and the top three finalists will be awarded college scholarships.
The four judges this year were professors from Virginia Wesleyan University and NATO’s Allied Command Transformation.
Romanian Air Force Colonel Mihai Stir, assigned with Allied Command Transformation, was grateful to serve as a judge after mentoring for the past several years.
“The most important takeaways for me are the great friendships, cooperation and good relations developed between NATO and the local community, especially the young generation,” said Stir.
Sasha Frederick, a Princess Anne High School student, represented France during the Model NATO Challenge. This was Frederick’s second year participating in the challenge and she wanted to contribute more to the challenge proceedings. She expressed that she had a lot of fun the previous year, but she did not feel as prepared, so she made more of an effort to work closely with her mentor.
“I was really happy to get France,” said Frederick. “I felt more comfortable asking questions this year and coordinated well with my mentor. I took advantage of their knowledge and experience.”
When asked about the challenges with collaboration within NATO, Frederick emphasized that the Model NATO Challenge provides students with a unique perspective on consensus.
“I think that it is really hard [to decide] because everyone has a differing opinion and everyone needs to come to consensus. It can be difficult to get things done,” said Frederick. “I think we did a really good job during the event including everyone and giving everyone a chance to speak.”
Italian Navy Lieutenant Commander Mario Sabatini served as the mentor for Italy. This was his first time as a mentor for the challenge, so he did not know what to expect, but was grateful for the experience.
"I think this event is as important for the students, as it is for us," said Sabatini. "I didn’t have the opportunity to live the same experience when I was a student and, at this point, I wish I could have."
Sabatini also described how the Model NATO Challenge encourages students and mentors to get out of their comfort zones and try something new.
“When you do anything that is new you grow. You challenge yourself. If you stay with what you know, you never grow,” stressed Sabatini.
Another mentor, Norwegian Army Lieutenant Colonel Tor Are Harvey explained how the Model NATO Challenge gives young adults an opportunity to learn life skills and understand new perspectives.
“Learning how to rely on others, speak with others, understand others and be able to listen are skills that, especially young ones, often forget,” said Harvey. “The whole core of NATO is consensus. It’s all about listening to what other nations say … to understand the situation from their perspectives, so that we can have a common way to solve issues and to discuss them among all nations.”
The Model NATO Challenge serves as a bridge between the local community, academia, military organizations and the NATO Alliance.
As one of NATO’s two strategic commands, Headquarters Supreme Allied Commander Transformation has been located in the United States since its inception in 2003. The City of Norfolk, and the region as a whole, serve as exceptional hosts to military and civilian personnel from 34 allied and partner nations. As the warfare development command for NATO, Allied Command Transformation’s mission is to contribute to preserving the peace, security and territorial integrity of Alliance member states by leading the transformation efforts of military structures, forces, capabilities and doctrines.
NATO Appreciation Night
Every year, the Norfolk Admirals host NATO Allied Command Transformation staff at the Scope Arena in Norfolk, Virginia.
Supreme Allied Commander Transformation, General André Lanata, and Allied Command Transformation staff and their families, were treated to a hockey game hosted by the Norfolk Admirals as part of NATO Appreciation Night October 26th, 2018.
General Lanata held the honour of leading a ceremonial puck drop prior to the start of the first period and the Command colour guard presented the host nation colours during the singing of the U.S. National Anthem.
U.S. Navy Builder First Class Robert Bergeron was also honored for his service to the U.S. Navy and to NATO during a recognition ceremony in the third period of the game.
Allied Command Transformation’s mission is to contribute to preserving the peace, security and territorial integrity of Alliance member states by leading the transformation of military structures, forces, capabilities and doctrines.
Association of Former Officers
The Association of Former SACLANT/SACT* Officers is a military fraternal organization based in Hampton Roads, Virginia. The Association's purpose is to foster and strengthen the continuation of the NATO spirit in an atmosphere of conviviality and friendship among former staff officers, their spouses and guests.
The Association also aims to keep informed of NATO matters and contribute to wider discussion of the security of alliance nations. Allied Command Transformation and the Association engage in frequent consultations on topics of importance to NATO, its member nations and the local communities.
Membership includes former military and civilian officers representing all branches of service, air, sea and land from throughout Europe and North America. Several social events are hosted throughout the year, traditionally beginning with lunch and roses on Valentine's Day and ending with a Grand Buffet at year's end in Norfolk. Additionally, the Association hosts a formal Mess Night from time to time to recognize an individual member's uncommon military experience.
* Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic (SACLANT) was redesignated as Supreme Allied Commander Transformation (SACT) on 19 June 2003, after NATO restructuring.
Norfolk NATO Festival
Norfolk NATO Festival is the longest continuously running festival in the Hampton Roads region, and the only one of its kind in the United States which honours the NATO Alliance and its member nations.
In 1951, the Women’s Club of Norfolk and a number of Norfolk’s garden clubs embraced an idea espoused by Fred Heutte, the city’s Superintendant of Parks and Forestry, to promote the city’s floral beauty through an annual festival. Named the Norfolk Crape Myrtle Festival, it took place in Stone Park, located at the north end of The Hague, in the heat of the August sun.
However, after the 1952 festival, city business leaders from the Norfolk Chamber of Commerce, the 21st Street Business Area Association, and the Retail Merchants Association revised the festival’s theme and season, choosing a springtime Azalea Festival to highlight the beauty of the one-hundred acre Norfolk Azalea Gardens (now called Norfolk Botanical Gardens). The festival was operated and financed as a Committee of the Chamber of Commerce, in cooperation with the City of Norfolk, from 1953 to 1998.
In 1953, NATO established its first and only command in North America, Supreme Allied Command, Atlantic, in Norfolk, Virginia. Aligning the city’s Azalea Festival with the newly formed NATO command helped it to stand out from the multitude of other azalea festivals in nearly every state south of Mason-Dixon line. One year after NATO’s arrival, Norfolk city leaders renamed this event the International Azalea Festival, which served the dual purposes of a salute to the allied forces and celebrating the beauty of the city’s gardens.
In 2009, NATO celebrated its 60th Anniversary, with 28 full member nations and 22 partner nations as part of the Alliance, providing an ever-increasing and dynamic international community in Hampton Roads.
In the more than 50 years since its inception, the festival has developed into a non-profit 501(c)(3) corporation, which produces numerous cultural and educational events that are attended annually by thousands of people. The festival is proud to partner with other community organisations, including the Virginia Arts Festival, Visit Norfolk, Norfolk Public Schools, and Allied Command Transformation, to produce these events.
In 2009, the festival changed its name again to the Norfolk NATO Festival. Its goals include creating new friendships, providing a basis for cultural exchange, recognising the military's role in maintaining peace in the world, and pursuing new lines of trade between Norfolk and the world.
In 2019, as NATO celebrates 70 years of international peace and prosperity, it is as committed as ever to keep our people safe. The enduring values of freedom, democracy and the rule of law that have made NATO the most successful military Alliance in history for almost 70 years, have always been at the heart of NATO’s activities.
Allied Command Transformation, as the only NATO Headquarters in North America, is fully committed to the celebrations of NATO's 70 years of international peace and prosperity; the 2019 Norfolk NATO Festival will be a showcase of NATO's commitment to the transatlantic link, the bond between Europe and North America which has made NATO the strongest alliance in history, and to the engagement with the Hampton Roads Community.