NDTA Memberships: Time to Grow…Time to Go!

Sep 14, 2021 | Defense Transportation Journal, DTJ Online

During my time in the military, there was a saying I often heard that was validated as truth over many years of service, “Mission first, people always!” The idea was clear: Nothing is more important than the organization’s mission, but it is also true there is no way to accomplish that mission without all the Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Airmen, and Coastguardsmen and the organizations to which they belong.

Since incorporation in October of 1944, as the Army Transportation Association (ATA), NDTA has been an organization driven by individual and corporate members who believed in the mission, “To foster a strong and efficient US transportation system to support the economy and the national security of the United States.” And those men and women dedicated their time and talent to building a strong US national defense. They passionately formed and led NDTA chapters and committees while working to educate government and industry on the logistics and transportation issues of the day.

By the mid-1960s, they grew NDTA to over 16,000 members and nearly 100 chapters! They kept their focus on the issues, formed lifelong relationships, and made sure it was fun. A quick glance through our recent 75th Anniversary Yearbook tells the story—NDTA is all about relationships, and our individual and corporate members form the organization’s backbone. Our NDTA members have always been the key to our success and mission accomplishment. That fact is not likely to change anytime soon.

Even so, NDTA has experienced organizational change. Over the course of NDTA’s history, chapter and membership numbers have risen and fallen with the tide of the times. I recall hearing former Director of the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) LTG Robert Dail, USA (Ret.) use the aphorism, “A rising tide lifts all boats.” His point was that the growth and health of an organization help lift everyone involved in the enterprise to success. Seventy-seven years of NDTA history has proven this point and provided several examples to show we are at our best when chapters are flourishing, new members are signing up, and corporate partners are joining. A rising tide of memberships has always lifted the collective NDTA boat.

“Membership in NDTA is essential for any company working in the logistics business—especially when doing business with the US Government and DOD. Companies have instant access to experience and insights by participating fully in the NDTA Committee process.” —John Dietrich, Chairman, NDTA Board of Directors, and President & CEO, Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings

Expectantly, the high tide is followed by the lows—all part of the cycle. Just ask NDTA’s long-time member and General Counsel Frank McDermott, and he will tell you about the lean years following Vietnam. From the mid-1970s into the early 1980s, NDTA chapters, individual and corporate memberships dipped to historic lows. Memberships dropped from 13,000 to 6,200 before beginning a slow recovery. That was a loss of over 50% in just ten years!

The loss of chapters and members during that time was directly related to a difficult time in our Nation’s history when there was less focus on national defense. Still, NDTA stayed true to its mission and continued to work hard to retain and grow members. Membership numbers continued to improve until we hit Y2K, and then we witnessed historical change.

In 2021, the number of NDTA chapters and members is not where we would like it to be. Consequently, NDTA leadership has taken a closer look at the events of the last two decades to determine why this has happened. We have asked some key questions. Is the NDTA chapter and memberships model at an inflection point ushering in a new normal, or is it simply experiencing a low tide that will rebound? If this is a new normal, what does it mean, and what should we do about it? There is uncertainty, but there are plenty of likely reasons why chapters and members have declined.

As we took a closer look at the past two decades, we began to see several cause-and-effect relationships. As depicted in the figure shown, a number of events led to a decrease in chapters and memberships. For example, the attack on 9/11 resulted in a war that has lasted two decades. Large military deployments sent NDTA leaders and members off to war, impacting the chapters they no longer could support. The long, protracted nature of these deployments for NDTA members disrupted chapter leadership support and resulted in a lack of participation. In many cases, it led to chapters becoming inactive or ultimately deciding to cease operations.

At the same time, for reasons beyond the control and influence of NDTA, the Department of Defense created more stringent ethics regulations placing a higher level of scrutiny on their relationships with Non-Federal Entities like NDTA. Additionally, the US Army Transportation Corps, always a pillar of support for NDTA, was restructured as part of a new Army Logistics Corps in 2008. Support taken for granted for decades dried up overnight. More recently, as we all know, we got hit with a global pandemic making it nearly impossible for members to gather together. Not to worry though, there is plenty of good news at NDTA—we just need to stay focused and think about where to go from here.

First and foremost, we continue to focus on our mission. The NDTA mission is the reason we exist, and it stands above everything we do! Next, we acknowledge that historic change has occurred. NDTA may never reach the past heights for chapters and members, but that may be okay. NDTA’s purpose for existing has not changed—in fact, we think the mission is more important than ever. The work NDTA championed during the COVID-19 pandemic was proof of that.

“After nearly 38 years in uniform, it is clear to me that NDTA is THE ASSOCIATION for professional logisticians serving in the military. NDTA provides the connections necessary to improve all aspects of logistics in the military—from factory to flight line—and into theater. NDTA is the one association all military logisticians should join!”

Today, our Nation, our military, and our industry partners operate in and through a contested space, exposed to challenges never before experienced—think cybersecurity and advanced technologies that disrupt global mobility. NDTA individual and industry members will continue to work side-by-side with government to overcome these challenges. And, our NDTA committees and sub-committees will continue to lead that effort.

In closing, all NDTA members are ambassadors. That means each of us can help grow NDTA by promoting and encouraging membership. We must take time to share our story, mentor our young leaders, and encourage participation and involvement. At NDTA Headquarters, we must develop a strategy-based membership campaign that promises a high return on investment. Historically, NDTA regional, state, and chapter leaders have played a key role in the growth of the organization by attracting and encouraging participation. We know they will continue the tradition. Our strength comes from our members. We must focus our efforts on membership growth to ensure NDTA remains strong and viable for our future.

By COL Craig Hymes, USA (Ret.), Senior Vice President of Operations, NDTA

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