From the Deckplates - Toward Expanding Membership

By Senior Chief Jim Murphy, U.S. Navy (Retired)

So how do we increase membership in general and participation among the enlisted force specifically? For one, the Naval Institute needs to change part of its reputation.

When discussing Institute membership with enlisted professionals, a common question is, “Isn’t that an officers’ organization?” The answer is no. Or is it? Naval Institute leaders at all levels should ask themselves—individually and collectively—whether they want an officer-centric organization or one inclusive of all pay grades. The collective answer should be shared unambiguously with members.

If the answer is toward an inclusive membership, enlisted Sea Service professionals should be a focus of Admiral Daly’s vision of “more effective outreach to those on active duty, and greater opportunities for member participation.”

Efforts to encourage membership outside the wardroom have been ineffective, or so it appears. A breakdown of current members and membership trends would shed light on the question of whether enlisted membership has changed over the last several years. Considering many Proceedings and Naval History articles are now publicly available online, and that the USNI blog is a leader among its defense-themed peers, one might assume that enlisted participation has increased. If it has, we should determine what outreach has worked and can be expanded. If it hasn’t, we need to look toward new initiatives.

Engaging the deckplates must be sincere and consistent. Enlisted sailors, Marines, and Guardians are smart enough to know if their involvement is truly appreciated or if they’re just being paid lip service. A positive way to encourage more enlisted participation is to nominate a retired enlisted professional for the Board of Directors.

Voting is already under way for 2012, but this should be a priority next year. As qualified as this year’s nominees for directorship and the Editorial Board are, there is just one enlisted person among 22 nominations. Our membership includes some very smart, experienced, and educated enlisted people, and one or more of them—preferably with executive or business experience—should be nominated for the Board. That would send a strong signal that enlisted personnel are valued as members, contributors, and leaders within the Institute.

The Institute would also be well served by expanding the limited slate of essay contests, the number of which has declined over the last decade. Contests are a great way to encourage participation and attract new contributors. The Enlisted Essay Contest led to my own membership and was arguably a step toward my name appearing on this column.

The return of this and other contests should be a priority. Whether award recipients write once or become regular contributors, contests open the aperture for new ideas and members while providing a venue for would-be authors. Contests also present an actual or perceived increased likelihood of publication that, combined with “in the blind” judging, is potentially more appealing and less intimidating for new authors. Funding is a likely concern, but expanding enlisted membership would increase the pool of potential advertisers, and they may be inclined to underwrite an expanded array of contests.

The suggestions made here can increase participation across the board, but our enlisted professionals should be a focal point for any efforts toward expanding membership.

Senior Chief Murphy transferred to the Fleet Reserve in 2008 after 21 years of active duty. He served his entire career in the cryptologic community and was a qualified submariner.


Senior Chief Murphy will transfer to the fleet reserve on 31 December 2008 after more than 21 years of active duty.

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