“Community Relations programs are associated with the interaction between
NATO military installations in NATO member states and their surrounding civilian communities.
These programs can take the form of addressing issues of interest to
and fostering relations with the general public, business.”
[NATO Military Public Affairs Policy]
Allied Command Transformation’s main Community Relation event is the annual Norfolk NATO Festival when – since 1953 – the City of Norfolk honours NATO and its member nations.
Model NATO Challenge
On March 15th 2023, NATO’s Allied Command Transformation kicked off the Model NATO Challenge, bringing together students, military officials, and diplomats to participate in a strategic problem-solving challenge. Student Diplomats received mentorship from NATO officials, gaining experience on political relations while practicing diplomacy in real-time, with the highest performing participants earning scholarships.
Virginia Wesleyan University hosted the Model NATO Challenge, a collaborative public education event that started in 2007, with 30 high-school students from around the Hampton Roads communities participating in the annual challenge. The Model NATO Challenge is a decision-making simulation of a North Atlantic Council session, with Student Ambassadors assigned to NATO member states – officials from NATO member nations mentored participants, providing the students with political, military, and diplomatic guidance. General Badia, Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Transformation, shared his opening remarks: “You will face the difficult task of bringing many different national perspectives under one umbrella, to reach consensus for a decision… You may be future businesspersons, academics, diplomats, or political leaders shaping foreign policy. No matter what, I hope that this experience will also enrich your everyday life.”
Every year, the Student Ambassadors solve a new challenge, each representing real-world scenarios; last year’s was a crisis response simulation, which reflected geopolitics amidst the Russian invasion of Ukraine, as well as the reality of emerging threats. This year, the problem focused on challenges in the High North, involving a myriad of realistic political and military risks. NATO Allied Command Transformation officials chaired the North Atlantic Council session by acting as the Secretary General, the Chair of the Military Committee, and the Assistant Secretary General of Political Affairs.
The Model NATO Challenge serves as a bridge between the local community, academia, military organizations and the NATO Alliance; NATO’s Allied Command Transformation continues to be committed to working with the local community through school visits, various high-level conferences, volunteer projects and upcoming outreach opportunities.
As one of NATO’s two strategic commands, Headquarters Supreme Allied Commander Transformation has been located in the United States since its inception in 2003. The City of Norfolk, and the region as a whole, serve as exceptional hosts to military and civilian personnel from 34 allied and partner nations. As the warfare development command for NATO, Allied Command Transformation’s mission is to contribute to preserving the peace, security and territorial integrity of Alliance member states by leading the transformation efforts of military structures, forces, capabilities and doctrines.
NATO Appreciation Night
Every year, the Norfolk Admirals host NATO Allied Command Transformation staff at the Scope Arena in Norfolk, Virginia.
The Norfolk Admirals Hockey Team hosts NATO Staff and family members from Allied Command Transformation for a “NATO and Military Appreciation Game” every year. NATO Supreme Allied Commander Transformation conducts the ceremonial puck drop to symbolize the beginning of the hockey game.
Association of Former Officers
The Association of Former SACLANT/SACT* Officers is a military fraternal organization based in Hampton Roads, Virginia. The Association’s purpose is to foster and strengthen the continuation of the NATO spirit in an atmosphere of conviviality and friendship among former staff officers, their spouses and guests.
The Association also aims to keep informed of NATO matters and contribute to wider discussion of the security of alliance nations. Allied Command Transformation and the Association engage in frequent consultations on topics of importance to NATO, its member nations and the local communities.
Membership includes former military and civilian officers representing all branches of service, air, sea and land from throughout Europe and North America. Several social events are hosted throughout the year, traditionally beginning with lunch and roses on Valentine’s Day and ending with a Grand Buffet at year’s end in Norfolk. Additionally, the Association hosts a formal Mess Night from time to time to recognize an individual member’s uncommon military experience.
Membership is open to military and civilian staff who have served within these two Commands, or in other NATO capacities, or are friends of NATO – whether active duty, retired or civilian. Enquiries for membership are invited.
* Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic (SACLANT) was redesignated as Supreme Allied Commander Transformation (SACT) on 19 June 2003, after NATO restructuring.
Norfolk NATO Festival is the longest continuously running festival in the Hampton Roads region, and the only one of its kind in the United States which honours the NATO Alliance and its member nations.
In 1951, the Women’s Club of Norfolk and a number of Norfolk’s garden clubs embraced an idea espoused by Fred Heutte, the city’s Superintendant of Parks and Forestry, to promote the city’s floral beauty through an annual festival. Named the Norfolk Crape Myrtle Festival, it took place in Stone Park, located at the north end of The Hague, in the heat of the August sun.
However, after the 1952 festival, city business leaders from the Norfolk Chamber of Commerce, the 21st Street Business Area Association, and the Retail Merchants Association revised the festival’s theme and season, choosing a springtime Azalea Festival to highlight the beauty of the one-hundred acre Norfolk Azalea Gardens (now called Norfolk Botanical Gardens). The festival was operated and financed as a Committee of the Chamber of Commerce, in cooperation with the City of Norfolk, from 1953 to 1998.
In 1953, NATO established its first and only command in North America, Supreme Allied Command, Atlantic, in Norfolk, Virginia. Aligning the city’s Azalea Festival with the newly formed NATO command helped it to stand out from the multitude of other azalea festivals in nearly every state south of Mason-Dixon line. One year after NATO’s arrival, Norfolk city leaders renamed this event the International Azalea Festival, which served the dual purposes of a salute to the allied forces and celebrating the beauty of the city’s gardens.
In 2009, NATO celebrated its 60th Anniversary, with 28 full member nations and 22 partner nations as part of the Alliance, providing an ever-increasing and dynamic international community in Hampton Roads.
In the more than 50 years since its inception, the festival has developed into a non-profit 501(c)(3) corporation, which produces numerous cultural and educational events that are attended annually by thousands of people. The festival is proud to partner with other community organisations, including the Virginia Arts Festival, Visit Norfolk, Norfolk Public Schools, and Allied Command Transformation, to produce these events.
In 2009, the festival changed its name again to the Norfolk NATO Festival. Its goals include creating new friendships, providing a basis for cultural exchange, recognising the military’s role in maintaining peace in the world, and pursuing new lines of trade between Norfolk and the world.
In 2019, as NATO celebrated 70 years of international peace and prosperity, it is as committed as ever to keep our people safe. The enduring values of freedom, democracy and the rule of law that have made NATO the most successful military Alliance in history for almost 70 years, have always been at the heart of NATO’s activities. Allied Command Transformation, as the only NATO Headquarters in North America, fully committed to the celebrations of NATO’s 70 years of international peace and prosperity; the 2019 Norfolk NATO Festival was a showcase of NATO’s commitment to the transatlantic link, the bond between Europe and North America which has made NATO the strongest alliance in history, and to the engagement with the Hampton Roads Community.
In 2020, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Norfolk NATO Festival had to be canceled. The 2021 edition, in an unusual one-day format, was celebrated June 5th.
2023 marked the 70th anniversary of the Norfolk NATO Festival; Finland’s flag flew alongside the other NATO member nations as the newest Alliance member. NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Transformation, General Philippe Lavigne shared “The Norfolk NATO Festival has celebrated the bond between the city of Norfolk and NATO for many years. 2023 is special for three reasons. First, 2023 marks the 70th anniversary of this Festival, making it the longest continuously running festival in the Hampton Roads region. Second, because 2023 also celebrates Allied Command Transformation’s 20th Anniversary! In addition, the third reason why this Norfolk NATO Festival edition is special, is because 2023 has just seen the accession of a 31st member nation to NATO. NATO is a defensive Alliance by nature, based on solidarity between Allies that are different, but share the same values. And the Norfolk NATO Festival has always been a symbol of this international solidarity, and friendship. Today, this colourful display of 31 Nations flags and uniforms, also shows our diversity, our inclusiveness and our cohesion!”