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We are in full-fledge Symposium mode here at the Grand Hyatt in beautiful Tampa, FL!

A Glimpse Into SOF History

What an amazing start to the Symposium! CSM (Ret) Rick Lamb, a legend of the U.S. Army SOF Community, opened the event dressed in an authentic uniform from WWII. He was even carrying a true-to-the-time Tommy gun (unloaded) and grenades (just replicas….we checked). Down to the boots and cut-off leggings, his uniform was thoroughly authentic, and of course, Ranger Rick knew the real history behind every piece.

Most attendees didn’t know what to expect when they saw him in the clearly “old school” uniform, but as he walked on stage and took his speech notes out of their spot safely tucked into his helmet, it became clear that this wouldn’t be a standard welcome.

2019 GSS-US, Day 2: Remember a Name
CSM (Ret) Rick Lamb (aka Ranger Rick) preparing to talk about the authentic WW2 uniform he wore on opening day.

Rick first spoke about the importance of our national partners, and when he asked them to stand for recognition, quite a few clusters of representatives from over 20 nations stood to great applause. The variety of uniforms and cultures represented is truly impressive.

He then acknowledged that 2019 will mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day, and music started to lightly play as some black and white footage came up on the screens. Rick then wove a story of that day in France, as the music intensified and the footage of the invasion flashed. He spoke of the death, the perseverance, and the chaos of that day, all through the eyes of his friend John Raaen, who was 22 years old on Omaha Beach on June 6th 1944.

2019 GSS-US, Day 2: Remember a Name

His speech then tied into the sacrifice that war brings, and asked everyone to pause for a moment of remembrance and to think of a name, a voice, a smile… of someone they’d lost. It was a moment this group took seriously, and all eyes in the room were not dry.

Good Morning, GSF!

He only spoke for 10 minutes, but Rick Lamb was (and always is) a tough act to follow. However, we really didn’t know just how up to the task the day’s Master of Ceremonies, Mr. Brigham Bechtel, would be! Brigham is a representative for one of the GSF’s newer Patron Partners, MarkLogic, and his sincere and honest reflections and anecdotes after each session were truly special–he was a great “MC” for the entire day and we were very impressed.

2019 GSS-US, Day 2: Remember a Name

Brigham gave some important housekeeping notes, and then introduced Dr. Brian Kent (better known as BK), from the Symposium’s Platinum Sponsor- Huntington Ingalls Industries + Fulcrum. Fulcrum is a long time GSF Partner, and they were recently (very recently!) purchased by Huntington Ingalls  Industries–which is why you might have seen some inconsistencies this week in the branding for our highly appreciated Platinum Sponsor!

2019 GSS-US, Day 2: Remember a Name
Mr. Emerson Brooking’s Book is a must-read!

BK represented the Platinum Sponsor well, and provided an introduction for Emerson Brooking. He’s a co-author of LikeWar: The Weaponization of Social Media, and he just recently started working at the Atlantic Council think tank in DC.

Oh, and he was named to Forbes’ Top 30 Under 30 List this year. Cue your feelings of inferiority.

Emerson’s presentation on The Weaponization of Social Media was one of the most talked about events all day. The specific examples and stories were especially revelant. For instance, during the ISIS invasion of northern Iraq in 2014, paramilitary forces (made up of mostly millennials) promoted the invasion publicly, creating enough fear that locals laid down their arms and fled…. #LikeWAR

We talked to a seasoned Navy SEAL NCO who loved it. We talked to someone in aviation industry who loved it. People were taking the time to verbally describe graphs from the presentation in detail during networking breaks hours later. This session made an impact.

And honestly, it was clear that it made an impact on the next keynote speaker: MG Maria Gervais, the Deputy Commanding General of the U.S. Army Combined Arms Center for Training.

MG Gervais referenced Emerson’s presentation multiple times in her remarks, saying that his examples were “illustrative and scary.” She built on that, and spoke in depth about the continued push that will be needed to stay ahead of adversaries, and the important role that realistic training plays in that push.

It was a very interesting morning for sure!

Gimme’ a Break…and some History

We moved into networking break, which was sponsored by Flour (Coffee) and SCI (Snacks)! This was also the first event that really brought the crowd into the nearby Exhibitor Pavilion.

2019 GSS-US, Day 2: Remember a Name

As a quick side note, we received 30+ comments from attendees on Day 2 alone that they loved the new venue. As we’ve said before, for the past three years this Symposium was a little removed from central Tampa in Palm Harbor. But now we’re at the Grand Hyatt, and people love it. They love the proximity to MacDill AFB, the next-door-neighbor-ness of the Tampa International Airport, and the more connected feel of the whole venue. There’s space for sidebar meetings. There’s views of the water. There’s multiple restaurants in walking distance. It was great!

The “worst” thing about the venue (and it’s not even bad), is that the only space for real booth exhibits is a bit of a walk from the Symposium General Sessions in the Exhibitor Pavilion. BUT, we decided to turn it into an opportunity to catch up on some SOF history and we added some signage with brief glimpses into SOF missions, and specifically highlighting the distances the operators traveled under high levels of duress.

2019 GSS-US, Day 2: Remember a Name
The “SOF History Trail” was a hit!

We’re calling it the SOF History Trail, and people really dig it! J.J. Holmes, a former SOF aviator, took some time to tell us how much he loved it, and that the inclusion of the step counts, the history, and the SOF-focus hits just about every audience. Thanks, J.J.!

Learning from Leaders

The next Panel was focused on Innovation in Modeling, Simulation & Training, and led by Dr. Jim Frey, who recently served as the Small Business Committee Chairman for a year and is a great supporter of this community. He was joined by repeat presenter MG Maria Gervais, Mr. Michael Harris of U.S. Army Contracting Command – Orlando, Dr. Robert Siegfried of NATO, and Brigadier General Michael Sloane PEO-STRI.

They talked about the importance of modeling and simulation, and how to ensure that it becomes an embedded part of all operations, not just a “thing you go do.” Once warfighter planning matures to a point where simulation is just another operational planning tool, then we are properly leveraging this technology.

We had another panel in the afternoon called, “The Operator’s Kit: Equipping the Operator,” which brought Ranger Rick back to the stage as the moderator. He had with him Colonel Gabor Santa of Hungary, CSM Warren Soeldner, the Commandant of JSOU, and Sergeant Major Radek Vajdecka, the Czech Republic Special Operations Forces Exchange Officer and Sergeant Major for J3-International at USSOCOM. This group brings in years of hands-on SOF experience, and were qualified to speak about SOF equipment from a variety of perspectives.

2019 GSS-US, Day 2: Remember a Name

When reflecting on his panel, Ranger Rick said: “It was interesting to see how far a lot of the Partner Nation SOF have come since the ‘Fall of the Wall’ and 9/11. The fact that we now share a lot of the same challenges was interesting, and I see that [the United States] is sometimes part of the problem and not part of the solution. We need to caution ourselves to listen.”

The other Keynote speaker of the day was Mr. James F. McDonnell, the Assistant Secretary for Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Office at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. He spoke on WMDs, stating that, “My office will spend roughly $300M per year on nuclear, chemical, and biological weapon detection equipment and technologies.” He talked about how that effort toward detection has lent itself to hiring people with a special operations background.

Thank you again to all of our stellar speakers today.

Honoring a National Treasure

Every year at this Symposium, we honor a deserving member of the SOF Community with a GSF Lifetime Achievement Award. This goes to someone who has made an impact on the international SOF community, whether through military leadership or policy efforts or bringing nations together.

This year, we presented this award to The Honorable James “Jim” Locher, and we had a great day with him and his wife Norma here at the Symposium. Mr. Locher was kind enough to do a podcast with us, where he talked about his career and his work with the Cohen-Nunn Amendment (or Nunn-Cohen, depending on your school of thought)–which ultimately established U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM).

Mr. Locher has repeatedly throughout his career taken on tasks that most people considered impossible, which is something that Dr. Keenan Yoho, the GSF Vice President, emphasized during the afternoon presentation of the Lifetime Achievement Award to Mr. Locher.

2019 GSS-US, Day 2: Remember a Name

Mr. Locher provided his own remarks, noting that “The Global SOF Foundation is helping to build a critical SOF network” before telling us more about his work in the Senate, White House, and Pentagon. A truly accomplished individual, and as Stu said earlier in the day, “a true national treasure.”

A Radiant Solution to the Networking Reception

For the last official event of the evening, we headed to the Exhibitor Pavilion for a networking reception, which was kindly sponsored by a GSF Founding Partner – Radiant Solutions. Mr. Emerson Brooking also had a table to do some book signings, and after his much-discussed morning presentation there was definitely a line. Over 50 books were purchased and signed!

2019 GSS-US, Day 2: Remember a Name

As Emerson said afterwards, “The networking here has been insane! I have at least 40 people to follow up with after this.”

The reception also featured the traditional System High Beer Garden, which featured a Belgian Beer–Stella Artois! Perhaps a teaser for our upcoming Symposium in Belgium? Thank as always to System High Corp for sponsoring this fun addition to our receptions.

2019 GSS-US, Day 2: Remember a Name

The food was yummy, the conversations were flowing, and attendees had an extra chance to talk one-on-one with the Exhibitors. We had to play the song “Closing Time” to get everyone to leave at least 30 minutes after the scheduled end time–so we’d say it was a success!

There’s still one more day of Symposium events tomorrow, and we’ve saved some great speakers for it. See you then!


See the official photos of the day.

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