COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (Tribune News Service) — The head of America's largest organization for military officers says keeping his 390,000-member group going means helping vets lead better civilian lives.
Retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Dana Atkins took over as CEO of the Military Officers Association of America last week. He said the association will keep up its fight for retirement and health benefits, but a heavier emphasis will be placed on helping younger officers move to civilian careers.
"MOAA itself can become the go-to place for military officers transitioning to the private sector," he told The Gazette in a phone interview.
Atkins came to the association after a 35-year Air Force career during which he worked as a fighter pilot and later headed Alaskan Command. After the Air Force, he took the top job at Georgia's Augusta Chronicle newspaper.
He said the association offered him a chance to use the passion that led him through decades in uniform.
"We're all looking for that position where your passions line up with your responsibilities," Atkins said.
One of the association's biggest jobs is twisting arms in Washington. Active-duty troops are barred from most forms of political activism, but groups like MOAA can lobby on behalf of military causes. The organization has blocked proposed benefit cuts even during a budget downturn that carved more than $50 billion a year from Pentagon coffers.
"We have been remarkably successful with Congress in advocating for our membership," he said.
One thing that worries Atkins about that work on Capitol Hill — it has been done relatively quietly.
"We have done some great things, and how do we let people know how successful we have been?" he asked.
A Portland, Ore., native, Atkins is looking to a business from his home state for marketing tips.
"How does Nike sell shoes?" he said. "They bring in a spokesperson, someone their consumer sees as a role model. Why wouldn't MOAA have a spokesman?"
Atkins said he has a secret weapon for growing the group. The association has burgeoning local chapters, with a flagship in the Pikes Peak region that has more than 1,000 members.
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