"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]
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
On March 17th 2021, 30 students demonstrated their leadership and diplomacy skills while discussing challenges facing today’s NATO Alliance.
This year’s topic: COVID-19. Although this pandemic is fundamentally a health crisis, its repercussions and effects stretch into other realms, including economics, trade, politics, diplomacy, security and defense, (dis)information, civil administration, human security and social cohesion. The discussion focused on the opportunities and challenges that NATO faces in the midst of this pandemic environment.
Working in cooperation with Allied Command Transformation and Norfolk Public Schools, the Norfolk Festival started the Model NATO Challenge in 2007 to provide a unique opportunity for high school juniors and seniors interested in the advancement of international studies. It is a scholarship competition where the top 30 high school applicants are chosen to participate in a mock global crisis simulation. The scholarship program is designed to recognize the achievement of those student diplomats who have demonstrated excellence in the execution of their assigned responsibilities. Three scholarships are awarded ($2,500, $1,500 and $1,000).
Each student represented one of the 30 NATO member nations and was assigned a mentor – from the represented country – who assisted in preparing the student for the Challenge while explaining their culture, national military resources and political backgrounds.
After last year’s cancellation of the Model NATO Challenge due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s event took place completely virtual.
“We will probably miss the opportunity of being physically together, but I am confident this simulation will be an enjoyable and effective mean to create a positive and lasting impression of the Alliance in your minds” said General Paolo Ruggiero, Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Transformation in his opening remarks. He continued, “this event is one of the great anticipated annual events hosted by the City of Norfolk, which gives, among other things, a unique chance to share our culture with the future generation, the leaders of tomorrow”.
The Model NATO Challenge serves as a bridge between the local community, academia, military organizations and the NATO Alliance; NATO’s Allied Command Transformation continues to be committed to working with the local community through school visits, various high-level conferences, volunteer projects and upcoming outreach opportunities.
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
The Norfolk Admirals Hockey Team hosted NATO Staff and family members from Allied Command Transformation for a “NATO and Military Appreciation Game” on Jan. 25. Over 5,000 people attended the Saturday night game.
During the opening ceremony, Supreme Allied Command Transformation General André Lanata conducted the ceremonial puck drop to symbolize the beginning of the hockey game between the Norfolk Admirals and the South Carolina Stingrays.
Master Sergeant Ricardo Marques (Portugal Army) and Petty Officer 1st Class Sebran Logan (U.S. Navy), both assigned to Allied Command Transformation, were recognized as the official “Military Salutes” for the game.
Throughout the event, family members participated in intermission games and a Zamboni ride. A NATO information booth, manned by NATO Staff, was also set up at the main entrance of the Scope Arena to introduce the work of NATO and Allied Command Transformation to the citizens of Hampton Roads.
The game was scoreless until the third period. The Stingrays ended up defeating the Admirals 3-0.
Community events, like the Norfolk Admirals Hockey Game, demonstrate NATO’s presence within the Hampton Roads Community. These events also allow opportunities for NATO Staff and their families to enjoy a night out together and to thank the local community for their continued hospitality.
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.
Membership is open to military and civilian staff who have served within these two Commands, or in other NATO capacities, or are friends of NATO - whether active duty, retired or civilian. Enquiries for membership are invited.
* 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 celebrated 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, fully committed to the celebrations of NATO's 70 years of international peace and prosperity; the 2019 Norfolk NATO Festival was 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.
In 2020, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Norfolk NATO Festival had to be canceled. The 2021 edition, in an unusual one-day format, was celebrated June 5th. NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Transformation General André Lanata kicked off the festivities at the annual Flag Raising Ceremony alongside Norfolk Mayor Kenneth Alexander, and Joint Force Command Norfolk Commander Vice Admiral Andrew Lewis. During the ceremony, NATO’s 30 Member Nations presented their national flags, while the United States Fleet Forces Band performed a cultural sampling of music, a demonstration of the diversity and strength of the NATO Alliance. “Although the 2021 Norfolk NATO Festival may look a little different this year,” said Gen. Lanata, alluding to the one-day event, “it is the embodiment of our strong community and friendship, especially after the last year of shared hardship and rebuilding. This year’s theme, ‘Stronger Together,’ should resonate to everyone. The test the COVID-19 pandemic presented us all only amplified the importance of community strength, a bond that is truly one of a kind here in Hampton Roads.”