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NEWS | Oct. 19, 2022

NSWCDD Hosts Inaugural Downtown Dahlgren Event

By Alan Black, Director, NSWCDD Corporate Communications

Though this time only proverbial, Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) brought its signature BOOM to Downtown Fredericksburg, Oct. 14 with its inaugural “Dahlgren Downtown” community event. 

Forging community partnerships was the theme for the first “Dahlgren Downtown” event, held at The Old Silk Mill.  With an open house to the public from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and a dinner with local area community leaders, NSWCDD delivered an off-river splash in every way.

Many people came out to learn what the division, located on the Potomac River at Dahlgren does and see various displays from past to present highlighting the division’s mission. “I never knew they did all this down there,” commented one visitor who brought her children by the event. The evening saw a black tie dinner with local elected officials, community leaders, and division officials celebrating the Navy’s 247th birthday, Dahlgren’s 104th birthday and the 104 year partnership between the Navy and the region.

 “It was a fantastic, well executed, planned and coordinated,” said NSWCDD Commanding Officer Capt. Phil Mlynarski. “The attendance was great for both events and the displays gave everyone a chance to understand who we are and what we do.”

What was not seen though, was the weeks of preparation that went into it, all a result of the division’s corporate communications team. From expertly designed displays, a wide collection of historical and current artifacts, to the carefully placed signage, table settings, and centerpieces, the work of the team did not go unnoticed.

“It was because of them this event went off perfectly and all their hard work and determination to tell our story in a visual way and undertake something we had never done before on this scale,” said Mlynarski. “I know there was a lot of work beforehand, weeks of effort, you can’t pull this off without all the work beforehand of a highly talented team.”

Although the event itself was Oct. 14, one has to roll back the clock to July to appreciate the scope of the undertaking. That’s when Meghan Stoltzfus, deputy director of corporate communications, started the ball rolling with the team. “I knew it would be a lot of effort to pull off an event like this, with two parts, and limited time during the day of to set up, but I knew they could pull it off.”

Stoltzfus quickly got together with Merritt Hepinstall, the division’s visual information team lead, and Stacia Courtney, the division’s community relations lead, to start the process of executing such an event. Hepinstall had the most difficult task of preparing all the displays, signs, name placards for each table, and the exact placement of all these products to have the desired effect. But her efforts over the weeks leading up to the event paid off dramatically that day.

“It really told the Dahlgren story well, the displays showed not only the past but the future of the division and where it is headed,” said Curry Roberts, president of the Fredericksburg Regional Alliance at University of Mary Washington, who attended the event. “They (displays) were informative and well produced, and conveyed the right information to us. A lot of people commented on how much more they learned about Dahlgren at the event.”

Her team of designers; Chris Markwith, Bill Tremper, Kaitlyn Reddy, and Jennifer Davis labored over the course of weeks to design, produce and set up more than 50 displays and posters ranging from an 8 foot tall by 20 foot wide display of Dahlgren’s history, down to the program on each place setting for the event. Then from 7 a.m. the morning of the event, until late into the night, made sure everything was in place, stayed in place, then was packed up for the trip back to Dahlgren.

The job of getting all the officials, community leaders and other details and running point of the event was Courtney’s, who has been working at the division for a number of years and knows all the community leaders from the Northern Neck to Northern Virginia. Courtney, with the help of team member Logan Umbach, orchestrated the attendee list to find the right mix of community influencers, elected officials, state and federal officials and academia and industry and delivered more than 100 attendees from the region to the event.

Publicizing the event was no small task either. Laura Driskell, the division’s command information lead, and Jennifer Erickson, the command’s media relations lead, took that task on to reach an area encompassing some 300 square miles. Through the command’s social media channels and local area news outlets and partners, the two Dahlgren employees drove not only members of the public to the day event, but also posted during the day event and the evening dinner. One of those who came out was Ted Schubel, news director for B101.5 radio in Fredericksburg. Schubel said the displays were fantastic and felt the central location of The Old Silk Mill lent itself very well to the event.

At 7 p.m., everyone switched roles and the evening started. The program featured a dinner and a keynote by Commonwealth Secretary of Veterans and Defense Affairs, Craig Crenshaw, who read a proclamation from Gov. Glenn Youngkin highlighting the division’s 104th birthday and another one highlighting the Navy’s 247th birthday. Thanks to the efforts of Chris Pyles and Kristiana Montanez, attendees were dazzled with coordinating videos and imagery throughout the program.

Throughout the day and evening, the corporate communications team, inclusive of the aforementioned members and Sara Gray, Chris Pyles, Madeline Keenan, Morgan Tabor, Kristiana Montanez, Dave Ellis, Erin Snipes, Diana Stefko, and Taft Coghill, Jr. were in the background making sure things ran smoothly.

Of course, getting all the right displays, artifacts from Dahlgren, and making sure everything from electrical cords to zip ties were on hand fell to Jon Dodd, the corporate communications business manager, and the job of navigating the overall event to Stoltzfus. In the end, the one-day event was the culmination and efforts of weeks of work from this team and it left attendees in awe.

“Everything was phenomenally executed and told a great story,” said Ryan Morning, president, American Veterans Advocacy Group, who attended the event. “It was a great event and the opportunities to network with others were incredible, I look forward to next year’s event.”