NNOA – Bridging Generations

Captain Tom Abernethy, USN (ret.) and Lieutenant Alana Abernethy, USN – Two Chapter Presidents representing two distinct generations


Captain Tom Abernethy, USN (ret) serves as the President of the Washington, DC Chapter of NNOA and is also an executive at Accenture. His daughter, Alana Abernethy, serves as President of the Annapolis Chapter and is an Admissions Counselor at the Naval Academy. Both have blessed NNOA with great leadership, but as you can imagine, come with very distinct vantages. NNOA sat down with the two of them to discuss the generational differences and to learn more about their motivation to serve as NNOA members, moreover as NNOA leaders. We believe that we gained great insight into what motivates our junior officers to join and serve within NNOA as well as what keeps our more senior members and retirees engaged. The interview follows:

NNOA: So I guess the first obvious question is – how did this happen? How did the daughter of the good Captain (ret.) and Chapter President in DC, also become a Chapter President in Annapolis, {and so now we have this NNOA legacy in place}. How did this happen?

Alana: I’ll grab that one. Well, I had seen firsthand the benefits of being a Naval Officer and member of NNOA watching my father do so throughout my childhood. I saw how I could be a strong force for youth in the community and provide them the stepping stones they might need to succeed. That definitely spoke to me. So when I was finally assigned ashore in Annapolis, I got involved with the local Chapter and have been with NNOA ever since. 

NNOA: So Captain, there must be a certain sense of pride you feel here?

Tom: Definitely, and it all starts with Alana just being a great daughter! I tried my best to avoid coercing her to follow in my footsteps both with being a Naval Officer and member of NNOA. I wanted her to make her own life decisions. She got off to a great start in the Surface Warfare Community and is now at the Academy and leading the NNOA Annapolis Chapter. The fact that she made these decisions of her own volition is really great to see.

NNOA: Can you both give us a sense of how long you have been with NNOA?

Tom: I have been with NNOA since the early 80s. I was first introduced when I was at Postgraduate school as a Lieutenant. I must say though, that I became most engaged while in my major O-6 command in the Tidewater area. I really developed my passion for NNOA during that tour. The Chapter was strong and had great ties/outreach at Norfolk State University and in the community. That’s when I began to see the overwhelmingly positive impact NNOA could have on kids’ lives exposing them to the Sea Services and then supporting them throughout their careers. Once, I retired and went into corporate America, I found NNOA to be the perfect conduit for me to give back.

Alana: Well for me, I have been a part of NNOA most of my life through my dad. I became an official member within the last several years. While I have been an active member, I really developed a true passion for NNOA this past year while serving as President and most especially through my attendance at the last National Conference. When I saw all of those junior officers, of all ethnic backgrounds and communities, thirsting for knowledge – that NNOA was providing. And when I looked at the successful senior leaders, O-6 to O-10, who took the time to help develop our most junior members and noticed that everyone was passionate, everyone was engaged, everyone wanted to make a difference, I became that much more energized.

NNOA: Given that, what would you say is the value proposition for joining and participating with NNOA?

Alana: More than anything, I have found a true and continuing sense of community that NNOA provides. I have a network of support that I feel is vested in my success as an officer. I recall having that same sense of support at the Academy amongst my peers. It was that connectedness that in many ways pulled me through successfully. Speaking from experience, we need to reach out more to young officers to let them know that we are here for them.

NNOA: Along those same lines sir, on the other side of the spectrum you have a lot of retirees in your Chapter, we would suspect that there is a similar sense of community that exist within our retired community? Discuss the value proposition for our retirees.

Tom: Well, first let me say that many of these retirees are a lot older than me! {laughter} You know, things were different back when many of us joined. There was a greater sense of community fueled by a lesser number of us in the fleet overall – and there were racial barriers that existed at that time. But today, our sense of commitment comes from a different place. We see the need to pay it forward and provide support to the up and coming generations that are not necessarily as bound by those barriers. We simply want to make a difference and see the junior officers of today excel and we want to see the youth in our communities have an opportunity to serve.

NNOA: So then, it is necessary that NNOA make the paradigm shift to the realities of the day. Junior officers of today are not looking to come together to simply “survive”; their focus is to “thrive” and they feel much less constrained by external factors. So wouldn’t you say NNOA must support/approach them differently?

Alana: Absolutely! The mindset shift from the “survival mode” mentality is key. We need to shift to thriving versus surviving! Our focus on what we can do for our junior officers is key, but we must also continue our focus on bringing the message to community youth – to give them a chance to succeed in the sea services. Also, my generation is action-oriented. We want to “do” something that makes a difference. So to tie into my generation, you have to show us and engage us in “doing”.

Tom: Alana makes a great point; now is a different time. It’s about how you fulfill your greatest potential. It’s not about escaping the negative, as much as it is accentuating the positive. There is a certain optimism in cultural experience that exist today. I believe that NNOA is on the path to meet these new realities. I see things evolving.

NNOA: Concur! Any final comments?

Alana: I just want to brag on my dad. He has been a great example and has inspired me and laid a phenomenal path. I have watched the way he has lived, the impact and the success that he has had and I want to do the things that he has done. He has set a great example!

NNOA: Captain, what is your response to Alana’s comments?

Tom: My response is – interview over! {proud dad}.

NNOA: Well, it has been a pleasure speaking with the both of you today. It has definitely been enlightening. We are blessed to have you as Chapter Presidents in this great organization and we look forward to your continued service! Thank you.

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