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PORTSMOUTH, Va. - The National Naval Officers Association (NNOA) and the Association of Naval Service Officers (ANSO) commenced their first joint professional development and training conference here July 27.

The event, which runs until July 30, features more than 21 hours of educational and training development sessions, mentoring opportunities, and senior service leadership presentations.

With the theme of "Passionate Partners in Achieving the Possible - Now and in the Future," this year's conference focuses on the strategic role of diversity in achieving the mission and the importance of mentoring in the development of sea service officers. It is also the first time that ANSO and NNOA have joined to host a combined annual conference.

In her opening remarks to the nearly 600 conference attendees, ANSO's National President Cmdr. Meri-Angela Katson explained the significance of this alliance.  Katson is currently a resident student at the Naval War College.

"NNOA and ANSO became partners over a year ago and embarked on a passionate endeavor: to join forces working to strengthen the diverse officer corps in order to enhance our operational readiness in the Sea Services," said Katson. "And this partnership was created to reinforce our commitment of recruiting, mentoring and retaining our nation's minority future leaders."

Area sea service leadership also participated in the opening session of the conference and offered their views on the importance of diversity and mentoring. Among them was Vice Adm. Mel Williams Jr., commander, U.S. 2nd Fleet and a member of NNOA, who explained how he had seen the benefits of diversity harnessed throughout his command.

"At the United States 2nd Fleet I have a front row seat in observing diversity in action," said Williams. "As I go aboard aircraft carriers, as I go aboard the flight deck and the engine room, as I go on the destroyers, the amphibious ships and throughout, I really see a diverse mix of men and women. And that's a good thing – diversity in action has made Second Fleet stronger. Whether it has been in defending the homeland from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico, or helping a people in need in Haiti, or preparing for overseas deployments – the diversity of our people has made us stronger."

Williams also expressed the importance of the partnership between ANSO and NNOA.

"Both organizations have a very long history of contributing to the missions of the Sea Services, contributing to the career progression of individuals and giving back to the community," said Williams. "So the marriage of ANSO and NNOA at this conference makes good sense."

With a primary mission of the career development of sea service officers, mentoring will play a key role in the symposium, with four hours of the conference dedicated to both one-on-one and group sessions between mentors and proteges.

Williams shared with the audience how such mentoring shaped his career.

"As a young lieutenant junior grade in the back row, some two and half decades ago, watching people like [Marine Corps] General [Frank] Peterson and others stand up here and talk, I was back there taking notes," said Williams. "I had the courage to walk up to these pillars of leadership to ask questions, and yes, I did learn some things. They were so kind to share with me. I took it all in. The mentoring which I received helped me. And as a result, I have endeavored throughout my career to help others."

Coast Guard Cmdr. Lamar Johnson, vice president of NNOA's central region, called upon the conference attendees to play an active role in these mentoring relationships.

"I challenge every senior officer in the building to take the time to meet seven people that you don't know and share your wisdom, knowledge and experiences," said Johnson. "That means you will have to get out of your own comfort zone and mingle. I need the leaders to lead, so that the future will inspired to dream more, learn more and do more and become more."
 
By Lt. Laura K. Stegherr, U.S. Navy Diversity Directorate Public Affairs