Gen. Gary L. North, USAF (Ret), calls his time on MOAA’s board of directors a natural extension of his military service.
The association “has very successfully, and in an outstanding manner, represented both active and our Guard and Reserve members over decades and is well respected,” said North, who took over as board chairman in late October for departing Gen. Walter “Skip” Sharp, USA (Ret).
North noted Sharp's "exceptional leadership" and said it's a privilege to serve MOAA's more than 350,000 members as the association's Chairman of the Board of Directors.
“Our MOAA board, working with the MOAA staff and our members in the councils, chapters and general membership, form the foundation of MOAA. And our collective goal is to serve and represent our membership across our nation and to continue to advocate, inform and educate our members and families," North said. "It is our collective mission to represent them across our national, state and local communities."
While in uniform, North flew over 4,700 hours in the F-4, F-15, and F-16, including 83 combat missions. He served in multiple service and joint leadership positions, with his last service as commander, Pacific Air Forces, Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii. North has been on MOAA’s board since 2018 and recently served as chairman of The MOAA Foundation’s board of directors.
He shared his goals for MOAA in a recent interview, which has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Q. What would you like MOAA members to know about you?
A. I think I'm representative of the total population of MOAA. I joined the military after college, and I come from a military family. My dad was a Navy sailor in World War II, and his two brothers served in World War II. My dad was a sailor, and his two brothers were in the Army. My older brother is retired from the Army. I served for 36 years in the U.S. Air Force, and we have a son that's currently serving in the Air Force.
Our MOAA motto is “Never Stop Serving,” and I'm proud to continue to serve the over 350,000 members as the Chairman of the Board.
Q. What role do you see MOAA playing in terms of supporting officers and their families?
A. The advocacy piece of what MOAA does is centered around the Washington, D.C., area. But we reach out all over the United States – all our councils and chapters serve our members at the individual level, both in day-to-day activity, but also in times of need. Certainly, with the weather patterns we have seen over the last several years, our ability to help our members in need is critical. And that's one of the standout things I think MOAA does so very well.
Q. What would you like to accomplish as MOAA’s new board chairman?
A. Well, I think it's very clear that our organization, like many organizations that support our military communities, is extremely strong. But what we are seeing across the spectrum is that like other organizations, we must evolve. We need to reach our younger members serving in the military. We need to be an organization they can relate to.
So, while we have a very strong following with our legacy members and members who have been with us for decades, both on active duty and now retired, we need to reinvigorate how we represent the association to the active force as well as to the retired force. We need to represent the total force in a more valued environment so younger officers can understand how we can advocate for and support them as well as their children with things like the MOAA Scholarship Fund.
In the next two years I want to continue the strengths that Gen. Skip Sharp and [President and CEO] Lt. Gen. Dana Atkins and the board members and the staff at MOAA have done to represent so well and then move forward into the future. As always, we can't exist on what we did yesterday.
Q. How do you view MOAA’s advocacy mission, and how does your role play a part?
A. The strength of our nation relies on the strength of our democratic processes and our ability for the U.S. military to support our national strategic objectives. We have certainly seen that in this last year. The challenges of COVID, the challenges of global unrest, the invasion of Ukraine – it's made the world realize the military men and women who serve their respective nations are critical to our collective freedoms.
So, the advocacy piece of this is to continue to highlight to our nation the strength of our servicemembers. We need to help people understand how important those who serve, and their families, are to our nation – not only while they're serving, but how our nation needs to support them once they have served and continue to live as viable members of America and our community.
This ties back into how we reach younger generations of officers and help them understand what MOAA can do for them while they're serving, and then how they can continue to serve as MOAA members throughout their lifetime.
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Q. Another priority is maintaining a strong and active membership. How do you view the benefits of membership? Are there any areas you see to improve recruitment or retention?
A. Many of us have sat with our friends that we have served with for decades and asked, “Are you a member?” And some of them say, “I don’t even know what MOAA is.”
Once people understand what MOAA does, I've never had anybody say, “Well, jeez, I'm not interested. I don't want to be a member.” So, the outreach part of this is extremely important. And you can do it one person at a time. Every MOAA member should be a recruiter. Telling the story is really important, both at the grassroots level as well as the national level.
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Q. You have served as an adviser and leader for The MOAA Foundation and have seen new causes emerge, like our Crisis Relief Fund. How do you envision the future of the MOAA Foundation?
A. What I see is the adaptation to need. Just because we have done something one way forever doesn't mean that's the way we should continue to do it forever. I think both the scholarship fund and The MOAA Foundation are extremely strong. Bringing in the Crisis Relief Fund was a clear, emerging vector ... there was a strong desire to address a need after the COVID pandemic, and then the following environmental disasters we had. We know one thing: Mother Nature is the strongest force in the world, and Mother Nature is going to give us surprises.
We have an extremely strong scholarship fund and capability to help young men and women, the children of members and of non-members who want to apply. In the past years, we've not had the amount of people that we would like to see applying for these scholarships and grants. Again, this is a grassroots opportunity that we all need to talk about and inform folks it's a great option to help families and their children in attaining a higher education level.
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Q. How do you view MOAA’s chapters, councils, and virtual chapters? How can they continue to play a vital role in MOAA’s future?
A. While you have a Washington, D.C., environment where a lot of our work is done for advocacy at the national level, the strength of any team or any unit is the backbone that is throughout the nation. And we see that every day through our chapters, in our councils, to be able to unite like-minded military people who serve as that backbone. It's just phenomenal for camaraderie and friendship, and to be able to keep people informed.
That proper stream of information at the speed of today – that tie into our virtual chapters, and how we reach people who may be more homebound than they used to be, or who have gotten used to not gathering in large groups but are very interested in environments of common interest. We've recently stood up several virtual chapters to support the needs of our membership. So there is something in the form of a chapter for each of our members.
MOAA, as a large organization, has to think of new ways to reach out to our membership and to recruit new members. There is certainly a divide between younger generations, our millennials and Gen Xers and Gen Ys, and we need to be able to have something that not only satisfies but excites each one of them.