This is the third 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.
Day two typically marks the pinnacle of our GSOF Symposiums in Europe. Everyone is riding the excitement of Day 1 and the Welcome Reception and eager to check out a full-on day of VIP speakers and exhibit hall innovators. Plus, it’s always our most attended day, and this year it was a new record–we had just over 800 attendees!
So just what did those 800 folks get to do on day 2? Read on to see!
Budapest is off the Chain…bridge!
We woke up to a beautiful morning in Hungary. A forecast that just two weeks ago boded all rain and gloom turned around for us and instead we’ve had all sunshine and pleasant temperatures.
The morning started with a quick spin around the Exhibit Hall before heading right into the “conference theatre.” We rolled out the red carpet for our attendees and speakers, quite literally, this year… on the floor, the stage, and even the chairs! Those of you who joined us in Belgium in 2019 might have felt a bit nostalgic seeing it.
Our Mistress of Ceremonies today was Ms. Mary-Allison Yourchisin, or as most of you know her–MA. We had quite a bit of fun with the script calling her MC-MA, but more importantly she and her organization, SOFtact Solutions, is an excellent and long-term partner of GSOF.
She did an excellent job kicking off the event and introducing the first keynote: Lieutenant General Antonio “Tony” Fletcher, the Commander of NATO Special Operations Headquarters, or NSHQ. Stu was one of the founders of the NSHQ, so it always holds a special place in the Foundation.
LTG Fletcher spoke about his priorities, goals, and the evolution of Allied and partner SOF. He discussed the complexity of war and its many domains in 2022, saying, “SOF has an important role to play in all of those domains.”
In our first panel of the day, SOF leaders from across Europe came together to discuss ideas and opportunities about regional SOF headquarters. It was moderated by Captain (Ret.) Steve Wisotzki and his panelists included Major General Tamás Sándor (Hungary), Brigadier General Branislav Benka (Slovakia), Brigadier General Philipp Ségur-Cabanac (Austria), and Lieutenant Colonel Miha Rijavec (Slovenia).
As one attendee said afterwards, “When you guys started this Foundation, there were NO regional SOF headquarters. Now we have countries discussing it regularly and actually standing them up… that’s no coincidence!”
But it’s not all serious… moderator Steve Wisotzki wanted to make sure his panel stayed lively and asked our new Director of Events, Amy Belicev, for a tip:
Steve: Amy, hurry, help me think of a good joke to open with!
Amy: Hmmm…. How about…. “Budapest is off the chain…Bridge!”
Amy: You know… because Budapest is famous for its Chainbridge??
Steve: …… No.
Even without the joke, it was a lively and fascinating panel that many people said they wished could have gone quite a bit longer!
An Emotional Speech from Ukraine
We are SO honored that representatives from Ukraine came to join us for the Symposium. It’s a true testament to the importance of gathering our community and our focus on shared issues, namely the current war in Ukraine.
Brigadier General Viktor Khorenko, the Commander of Special Operations Forces for Ukraine, walked with his team across the border of Ukraine into Hungary, where the Hungarian SOF picked them up via helicopter to fly them to the Symposium.
After a brief break (featuring coffee sponsored by Lilt), BG Khorenko was next to take the stage.
Stu knew it would be standing room only, so he quietly and gracefully asked everyone to move and fill in the front (kidding of course, he was loud… but effective)!
BG Khorenko took the stage and began with a moment of silence for all of the Ukrainian lives that have been lost to the war. A powerful start to a speech that would leave all of the attendees with chills, sadness, and even some tears.
He shared his perspectives from the front lines, what needs to be done to win the fight, and of course there was a trading of gifts and much applause at the end!
“We’re with you!” Stu said, as the speech ended. Our community truly is, and it was evident over the course of the next two days that many people there wanted to offer the Brigadier General what they could to help his cause.
The speech gave everyone a lot to talk about at lunch, which took place in the exhibit hall. Our guests enjoyed some local fare, visited vendors, and reflected on the morning’s events.
We do want to acknowledge that event-planning isn’t always rainbows and roses. This year, industry attendees were asked to pay an additional fee for food, which we have never done at a GSOF Symposium in the past. We know it caused some confusion and frustration, and for that we do apologize.
BUT… this is just a small example of how we work with our community, discuss issues, and move together toward improvements! So we thank you all for your patience and understanding.
“I thought it would be boring…and it wasn’t!”
Following lunch, COO Meaghan Keeler-Pettigrew graced us with her wisdom and charm on stage to moderate a Senior Leader Discussion with Lieutenant General Edwin “John” Deedrick, Jr., currently the United States Military Representative to NATO’s Military Committee.
The conversation centered on NATO’s response to the war in Ukraine, how the Alliance has changed its strategic concept and plans accordingly, as well as its relatively new assertion that China represents a source of “systemic competition”. LTG Deedrick was very candid in his assessment of NATO’s commitment to strengthening resiliency and information sharing. He concluded by emphasizing how it can be frustrating to solidify the will of 30 nations into unified action but that it truly is what makes NATO such a strong alliance.
After Meaghan absolutely crushed it on stage, one attendee told her: “Wow, I thought that would be boring…but it wasn’t! I wanted it to go longer!”
While we question how anyone could think we might be boring in any way, we do accept all compliments, regardless of how they begin!
Three keynotes rounded out the speaking sessions of the day:
- Major General Richard E. ANGLE, Commanding General, 1st Special Forces Command (Airborne) – U.S. Army: The MG identified the criticality of the SOF, Cyber, and Space triad to success in today and tomorrow’s conflicts and shared his perspectives on the convergence of these important defense mission sets.
- Dr. László Palkovics, Minister of Innovation and Technology – Hungary: The Minister shared his perspectives on Hungary’s path toward a tech-empowered national defense.
- Mr. Jim Smith, Acquisition Executive at Special Operations Forces Acquisition, Technology and Logistics – USSOCOM: Mr. Smith reprised his speaking role from Government Only day and joined us to speak to the greater GSOF Europe audience. He discussed the key processes, lessons learned, and SOF-specific funding for his organization.
Now we haven’t yet mentioned that, due to the “airplane hangar-like” layout of Hall H, General Session took place in a built-out theater with custom built temporary walls, ceiling, A/V, stage, seating, and more!
While this layout is helpful to give a theater-feel for presentations, it isn’t perfect for audio control. There were a few different periods during the afternoon sessions where some sounds of a choir were heard in the Conference Theatre. We are TRULY sorry for the disruption to the sessions, but the thing is… we could not figure out where they came from. At all. Despite checking the whole building multiple times.
Believe what you want, but the only explanation we could find was ghosts. And while distracting, at least they were seemingly friendly, and they finally quieted down!
“Relationships with others are the mark that we leave in this world.”
The evening closed out with a reception in the Exhibition Hall. This was a chance to pull attendees into the expo for more casual conversations, reunions, and a chance to enjoy some Hungarian beer, wine, and cheese!
As one long time GSOF member and event attendees said, “The people I was able to reconnect with, many of whom I haven’t seen in 15 years, solidified that our success doesn’t depend on how hard we work or how much money we make. Relations with others are the mark that we leave in this world.”
We couldn’t agree more, and it was almost a challenge to get the chance to talk to everyone you wanted to because so many members of our community were in attendance. #goodproblems
It was also fantastic to have the Ukrainian SOF commander in attendance, participating in meetings and joining in to view different exhibits, along with the other keynote speakers of the day.
We can’t wait to join in on the final day of the Symposium, and look forward to seeing you there!