Alabama Voices column, published in The Montgomery Advertiser, Oct. 2011


 
A chance to mingle with world-class experts
By Lt. Gen. Charles G. Cleveland
Alabama World Affairs Council
   It’s not often or just anywhere that the public can get “up close and personal” with royalty, CIA and National Security Agency directors, ambassadors to and from key newsworthy countries, national security advisors, top generals and strategists and academics, and other world-class experts on issues of vital national and international importance.
    But that is routine in Montgomery, where the public can not only listen to outstanding American and foreign leaders discuss hot topics of vital concern, but can ask them questions and socialize with them both before and following their presentations. On top of that, a catered buffet precedes the presentation as part of the event.
   This bonanza for the River Region is made possible by the Alabama World Affairs Council (AWAC), which in turn is supported by Auburn University Montgomery, Huntingdon College, Air University, the business community, and the Alabama Humanities Foundation.  AWAC is one of 94 councils affiliated with the World Affairs Councils of America. This pipeline, the attraction of Montgomery’s Maxwell Air Force Base resources, and the connections AWAC members have with important potential speakers have resulted in annual programs distinguished by their quality and breadth.
  The seed for the organization was planted in 1985 when visionary representatives from Auburn University Montgomery, the Air War College, and the Montgomery Advertiser got together and hatched a brilliant idea: let’s merge our resources to “bring the world to Alabama.” A key reason for AWAC’s success in attracting renowned speakers is its current executive director, Dr. James Nathan, the Khaled bin Sultan Eminent Scholar at AUM, a former foreign service officer, and member of the Council on Foreign Relations, who knows and interacts with many of the speakers. He has been executive director since 1992.
   Each year there are five or six events, September through May, usually on Tuesday evenings at the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts. They begin with an informal reception featuring a buffet (included in dues or ticket price) at 5:30 p.m. The lecture/presentation begins at 6:15, followed by a question and answer session about 7 p.m. that ends no later than 7:30.
    The usual audience is about 200 to 250 people from a membership of about 400 families and individuals, making AWAC one of the largest organizations of its type in the South.
    While the quality of its programs is among the highest in the nation, AWAC’s fees are among the lowest. Members often comment what good fortune they have in enjoying so much for so little.
   The dues structure allows virtually any interested person to participate. High school students can come free as guests of the board, and dues for college students are $30 annually, seniors (65+) are $60, adults under 65 are $80, and family memberships for two are $100. Higher levels of membership are available and encouraged, e.g., the Diplomat level at $250 guarantees four reserved seats at each presentation.
     The AWAC board is composed of leaders from the business community, academia, the military (both active and retired), state government, the professions, non-profit organizations and others. All probably would subscribe to the advice from President James Madison, known as the Father of the Constitution: “The advancement and diffusion of knowledge is the only guardian of true liberty.”
   Some have called the Alabama World Affairs Council meetings “Montgomery’s best-kept secret.” We don’t intend it that way. Everyone is encouraged to learn more about their nation and the world from leading experts on China (our October 4th program), international energy issues (November), Iraq and Afghanistan (February), Latin America (March), and such international hot spots as the Far East, the Middle East, Asia and Africa (May).
   You can check our web site at www.awac.us.  Information on membership and programs are also available by calling the AWAC office at AUM at (334) 244-3337.
    AWAC’s high-flown mission is to promote public awareness and understanding of international affairs as they relate to U.S. interests in context of the political, economic, cultural, historical and military issues involved.  In other terms, it is to help foster a democratic society through responsible individual knowledge of the world around us, making us better citizens.  And AWAC does that by providing programs that are informative, enjoyable, and inexpensive.


Charles G. Cleveland, former commander of Air University, is a retired lieutenant general in the U.S. Air Force, a fighter ace, and president of the board of directors of the Alabama World Affairs Council.

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