This is Blog #2 in our series about the Special Air Warfare Symposium in Ft. Walton Beach, Florida.
See all of the blogs in this series here.
The first two months of 2022 have been very eventful (to say the least), so we are VERY excited to say that we are onsite in Ft. Walton Beach, Florida, the HOME of U.S. Air Force Special Operations (among some other pretty critical SOF assets).
This week, our team at the Global SOF Foundation is hosting our inaugural Special Air Warfare Symposium (and expo!) and we are already off to an exciting start here on Day 0.
Read on to see how it went…
The Morning Rush
After a long day of prep and prepping and preparation at the Ft. Walton Beach, we were armed (with badges) and ready (sort of) for the morning rush!
While we were expecting an easy crowd of about 40 folks to show up first thing in the morning to attend our SOF for Life Seminar, our community far-exceeded our expectations and our registration desk was BUSY. But, our awesome team stepped up to the plate and got folks registered and into sessions pretty quickly, and that was even working around some Internet issues… because why not!?
So what were these folks so pumped about attending? Our Partners at The Honor Foundation are growing quickly in name recognition, staff, and locations with active campuses. This is very exciting, because we’ve been working with them since we started the Global SOF Foundation and we’re really thrilled by their growth. They are the premiere org for military transition education and support, specifically catering to the unique needs of the special ops community.
And while their primary focus is their longer, 12-week transition course, we have long offered shorter “just a taste” seminars at our Symposiums. The crux of the two-day seminar is helping attendees find their “why” and forge a path toward meaningful employment after their military careers come to an end.
PS: Military Times just posted an article about The Honor Foundation’s program this week! Read it here.
So Much Valuable Information
But that’s. Not. All. As soon as the SOF for Life Seminar was fully in motion, we flowed right into “Pro-Dev Day,” which for the uninitiated stands for Professional Development Day. Pro-Dev Days are catered to our Military and Government audiences, and have topics that have been requested by our SOF community.
We really weren’t sure what to expect in terms of attendance for the event, but we were oh-so-pleasantly surprised! From 10 AM till the end of the day, we had a solid crowd of 75+ members of our community in the five Pro-Dev sessions. The sessions hit a broad range of topics with some very impressive speakers, including:
- Pro-dev Session 1 – The Birth of U.S. Special Operations Command:
- Ms. Meaghan Keeler-Pettigrew, COO – Global SOF Foundation
- The Honorable Jim Locher, Former President and CEO, Project on National Security Reform and – Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict
- Pro-dev Session 2 -The Fourth Age of SOF: The Use and Utility of Special Operations Forces in a New Age
- Dr. Isaiah Wilson III, PhD, President – Joint Special Operations University
- CMSgt Shane Shorter
- Pro-dev Session 3: Battling the Bureaucracy: Integration of Today’s US AF/Army SOF Aviation:
- Ms. Meaghan Keeler-Pettigrew, COO – Global SOF Foundation
- COL (Ret) Keith Nightingale
- Pro-dev Session 4 – Lessons from the Global War on Terror:
- Moderator: CMSgt (Ret.) Matt Caruso, VP, Defense Business Development – Rivera Group; Director Air Commando Association
- Colonel (Ret.) Travis Hill, CEO – Simon-peter Group LLC
- CMSgt (Ret.) Bruce Dixon, Former GS-13 Director of Training, Special Tactics Training Squadron
- CCM (Ret.) William C. Markham, CEO and Co-Founder – Project One Veteran @ A Time, Inc.
- Pro-dev Session 5 – Fourth Age of SOF and Ethical Leadership:
- Dr. Joseph Long, Faculty – Joint Special Operations University
As one attendee said after leaving the first session: “If this session is any indication of how the rest of the Symposium will be, this will be worth it. There’s been so much valuable information already.”
That’s what we’re here for, folks! So glad the morning was so successful, and a massive thank you to everyone who attended, spoke, and made it awesome.
But Where is Stu? (Hint: He’s Here)
As many of you know, Stu had a major neck surgery in January as a result of his many years of service and, quite likely, an assortment of poor landings on jumps. It was a big ordeal, but overall it’s going to make him happier, healthier, and more comfortable.
For anyone who thought that would stop him from attending this Symposium, you were quite wrong! Stu spent the morning at 7th Special Forces Group for some meetings, but he was right back at the venue in the afternoon and ready to “Hold Court,” Stu-Style!
And if you happen to notice Stu wearing a bizarre collar this week, don’t worry… it’s just his bone stimulator… which is an actual real requirement for his post-op. When in doubt, just ask him, and you know he’ll be happy to tell you more about it!
We know it’s been a weird few years, so here’s an update on who’s on our full-time staff with Stu:
- Meaghan Keeler-Pettigrew, COO and crusher of Pro-Dev Day moderation
- Chelsea Hamashin, VP of Marketing and Events and the person who made all the things you see
- Ranae Grehl, Director of Events and knower of all things SAWS
- Jenn Brooks, Director of Partner Relations and the keeper of the companies
- Kate Geercken, Marketing and Events Coordinator and the owner of all things Booth related!
But it’s not just us: we talk frequently about the SkillBridge program, and we’re currently using it more than ever! SkillBridge allows active duty military folks to get out there in the last 6 months of their service and do internships with companies–and we are a qualified organization with a strong track record of matching our interns with quality careers before they fully separate.
At this event we have THREE amazing interns supporting the event with us. Check out their LinkedIn profiles below and chat with them this week:
They’re all hard workers, go-getters, and the best benefit: fun to hang out with! Please don’t be shy about striking up a conversation with any one of them.
Don’t Be Nice, This is Business!
While this was technically Day 0, we had the opposite of 0 things going on. In addition to the SOF for Life Seminar, Pro-Dev Day, Committee Meetings, and getting things like the Expo Hall and Symposium General Session set up, we also had our first ever Industry Matchmaking Session.
We have done other pre-planned networking events in the past, specifically Speed Networking at our Anniversary Receptions. However, this was different and this was exceptionally impactful.
We partnered with GovMates, an organization that came highly recommended to us and that we have since built a strong symbiotic relationship with.
GovMates requires Matchmaking attendees to fill out short capabilities profiles and once complete it allows their sessions to be extremely personalized, which in turn makes them meaningful for the participating organizations.
Their format matches big primes (buyers) with smaller businesses (sellers) and schedules a series of meetings between both over the course of two hours. As one seller from SOFtact Systems said, “Matchmaking was a great opportunity to re-engage and collaborate with former and future strategic partners!”
The buyers were happy, too! One rep had rave reviews, saying “this is the best event of this type I have ever attended. The matches were quality and we’ll be following up on all of our meetings!”
The GovMates team was incredibly passionate about their mission to match companies to meet, and our favorite line came when some sellers were debating who would take an open meeting slot and being too polite: “Don’t be nice, this is business!”
THIS is what I’m here for.
We have amazing programming opportunities for our Symposium attendees, but everyone who has been coming to our events consistently knows that the networking is the bread and butter.
The evening ended with a two-hour Welcome Reception at the poolside venue at The Island Resort, just a few hundred yards from the beach. The weather was PERFECT, the food was tasty, and Ms. Ann was the sweetest catering queen we’ve ever had!
We had attendees from the US, Belgium, Germany, Republic of Korea, Singapore, the UK, and the Slovak Republic, to name a few, plus reps from over a hundred different companies.
As we explained to some first-time Global SOFers… it’s so easy to see the people who come to our events all the time, because they appear to be at a family reunion. Those are the people you know aren’t new to our community.
The Reception, which was sponsored by our great partners at Leidos, lasted well over the two-hour limit, and many folks quickly migrated their conversations to the hotel bar and nearby restaurants to keep the ideas flowing.
We’re excited to see what the next two days have to offer! Stay posted to the event website and agenda to stay up to date and in the know: