This is the second blog in our GSOF Symposium – Europe series, focused on our 6th Annual Symposium in Europe! This rendition takes place in Budapest, Hungary, from 4 – 6 OCT 2022. See all of the blogs in this series here.
There is no doubt that travel has become more obstacle-filled in recent years. With the war in Ukraine, the recession, the lingering effects of the pandemic, and hey, we even threw in a hurricane last week…all are significant factors that make having an international Symposium a challenge in 2022.
As you know, we didn’t let any of that deter us from convening our Global SOF Community in Budapest this week! The first day is in the books, and we could see that many members of our network felt the same way and prioritized joining us here to learn from, engage with, showcase capabilities to, and enjoy the culture and people of Hungary and the greater special operations community.
Converging on the Target
The Global SOF team, along with many of our industry and government attendees, traveled in from other parts of the world to get here. To keep things interesting, our team from the US takes a variety of different flights…the 9 of us hit about 15 different airports to get here this year!
That’s right, we said 9! For those of you who have been with the Foundation for a while, you know that means our staff has grown significantly. Learn more about the newcomers on our team in this recent blog post.
To keep our now-larger team connected, we maintain a group Signal chat where we cover who’s landed, who’s delayed, and of course… what baggage is lost! Save for one delayed and soggy sign case (most likely abandoned for a while on a tarmac in Philly), we did pretty well this year.
This year our group chat was also full of airport selfies between members of our team and other GSOF Europe travelers. As we get closer to the final destination, we see more and more familiar faces with us on the plane. From Corporate Partners to our event planners to some of our speakers, the shared experience of traveling together begins our feelings of camaraderie and unity that only grows as the week goes on.
We like to think we entered the city gracefully, but rumor has it that a Bolt driver asked one of our travelers if he was here to see the “big cowboy and the American ladies.” But that’s just a rumor…probably!
With the safe arrivals of the big cowbo–err, Stu and our team, we were ready to launch into the 6th rendition of GSOF Symposium Europe!
Our First-Ever Big Time Exhibition Hall
The venue of this year’s Symposium is very exciting because it marks the first time we are holding a true exhibition at GSOF Europe.
Most of our European events have taken place in the ballrooms of hotels, which are typically relatively small. We’ve even had events spread through multiple hallways, foyers, and once even a “secret passageway” to connect the spaces. That worked fine in the past when our events were smaller, but with nearly 900 people registered for this Symposium… we needed to go bigger!
Through our partnership with Clarion Events, we were able to expand this event into a real-deal expo hall for the first time, which brought us to Hall H of HUNGEXPO, just outside of the Budapest City Center.
It’s a 10-15 minute ride from hotels on the Danube, but the space makes it worth the Bolt ride (aka Hungarian Uber).
In this year’s space, we fit over 70 booths in the exhibition hall. It took all day Monday and most of Tuesday to get the space set up and ready to “wow” the Symposium participants, and it paid off. From greenery-filled lounge spaces to a SAAB tower to an interactive, fake-blood spurting medical mannequin, it is certainly our most elaborate GSOF Europe exhibition.
Plus, if you head all the way to the back, there’s an especially cool Florida-styled tiki hut representing your favorite international special operations professional association… 10 points if you guessed it’s us! (and minus 1,000 points if you didn’t guess that)
We’re very excited for the opportunities that this expo hall will present over the next two days!
Government Only Day with our HUNSOF Co-Hosts
Since 2016, a staple of our first day in Europe is Government-Only day, which features an agenda set by the host nation’s SOF.
Our Partners at Hungarian Special Operations Forces (HUNSOF) built their focus around issues impacting their nation and local region, including SOF Acquisition, funding, and talent management.
Over 75 Active Duty Military and Government representatives from over 25 nations participated in the full day of session and networking breaks, which included keynotes, interactive panels, and opportunities for Q&A.
The day’s speakers included:
- Mr. Jim SMITH, Acquisition Executive at Special Operations Forces Acquisition, Technology and Logistics – U.S. Special Operations Command
- Captain (Ret.) Steve WISOTZKI, Former Naval Special Warfare Officer – United States Navy
- Brigadier General Claudiu DOBOCAN, SOF Commander – Romania
- Colonel Vasileios ZOTOS, Section Head of Supply and Procurement Office – Hellenic Army General Staff – Special Forces Directorate
- Colonel Gary WALENDA, Director of Strategy, Plans, and Engagements – Special Operations Command-Africa
- Dr. Keenan YOHO, Vice President – Global SOF Foundation
- Major General Peter BOYSEN, Commander – Special Operations Forces, Denmark
- Major General Ron SMITS, Commander – Special Operations Forces, The Netherlands
- Colonel Tom BILO, Commander – Special Operations Forces, Belgium
- Dr. Alicia FULLER – Norwich University
- Dr. János SETÉNYI, Director, Learning Institute – Mathias Corvinus Collegium
- Mr. Abe USHER, Co-CEO – Black Cape
- Brigadier (Ret.) Lance MANS, CEO – Syrus Insight, Ltd
- Brigadier General Branislav BENKA, SOF Commander – Slovakia
We would be remiss not to mention the Master of Ceremonies for the day, Colonel Csaba SZARKA from the Department of Defense Innovation and Skill Development for Hungary.
We asked Colonel Szarka to be the MC just late last week, and he jumped into it with gusto! We even began to suspect halfway through the day that he had the whole script fully memorized… and more importantly he kept in all of our “dad jokes.”
Putting A Ring On It!
Although the formal sessions were limited to Government attendees, we didn’t leave our industry attendees with a blank schedule.
If they weren’t in the process of ensuring their booths looked Instagram-ready, they might have been attending B2B Speed Networking.
Through a partnership with NewBridge Events, we were able to offer this unique networking opportunity where industry attendees filled out detailed forms to be matched for up to 8 targeted meetings driven by algorithms for the best potential B2B fits.
This was the first time we tried this in Europe, so we were excited to do some scrambling when our space planned for 100-120 meetings had to expand to a space that could fit closer to 200 meetings!
It was a bustling, mostly-organized chaos, which is what we’ve come to know and love about these types of sessions, and more importantly it provided targeted introductions for the 75+ people who attended to meet (at least) 5 new people.
But our favorite part of the first day was still to come…the Welcome Reception! In the evening, the Exhibition Hall was finally officially opened to all registered participants for 2 hours of networking, a first look at the booths, and So. Many. Reunions.
It was hard to walk 10 feet without seeing a friend, former colleague, or a karaoke partner from Symposiums gone by.
Many of those reunions centered around a booth that we’re quite proud of: our first official Global SOF Foundation booth (visit us at H31 this week). Not only will it put you in a tropical mood, but we also had some bonus pizzazz.
- A game… with prizes! If you saw a growing number of people with some jazzy looking Global SOF Hawaiian shirts, those people exhibited some prowess with “putting a ring on it,” aka our ring game, and one the opportunity to look as cool as our GSOF team. We are rapidly running out of prizes, so if you want to get a chance to stop by early on Wednesday, it may be your last chance to play and win more than bragging rights.
- SOF-a-Ritas! We put our own spin on Margaritas, in that we just called them “SOF-a-Ritas” instead. Our expert bartender personally mixed, shook, and salted each one, and it was an excellent way to get attendees to visit (and stick around) our booth.
- Our winning personalities… duh!
There will be ample opportunity this week to not only visit our booth, but the huge range of capabilities and technology areas located across the other 70+ exhibitors in the hall.
Get the most out of your day by reviewing the schedule and making sure you hit the Symposium Theater, the DISTEC sessions, and all of the exhibitors.
Here’s the schedule… and we’ll see you Wednesday!