The Inaugural SOF Imperatives Forum

This week was a really exciting one, as it featured a special event (or series of events) for us in Washington, D.C. 

Not only did we host our first ever SOF Imperatives Forum at Capitol Hill–we even had a chance to speak to the U.S. National Security Advisor, AMB Robert O’Brien, at the White House.

Read on to see more the hows, whys, and whats of these milestone events. Plus, don’t miss the official photo album:

To the White House!

As we’ve written about quite a few times, we’ve strategically partnered with Navigators Global to help us better educate U.S. policymakers on the needs of Special Operations.

This has resulted in the expansion of our annual SOF Imperatives document (more on that later), as well as more opportunities to engage with key representatives from Congress and the White House.

One of those events came on Tuesday of this week, when we were able to take a select crew to the White House for a special opportunity. The group included key representatives from the Foundation and Navigators Global, decorated Special Operations Veterans, and leaders from defense industry selected from our Founding Partners and key sponsors of this week’s activities.

The Inaugural SOF Imperatives Forum
Global SOF President Stu Bradin with National Security Advisor AMB Robert O’Brien.

After the standard check-in progress at the White House, we met with the U.S. National Security Advisor, AMB Robert O’Brien.

AMB O’Brien took the time to speak to the group about his priorities with Special Operations, and in turn, hear feedback from the group about what was seen as important from a variety of key perspectives.

It was a very memorable and impactful opportunity, and even the most experienced and privileged members of the group agreed: “That was pretty cool.”

I Know This Group Isn’t Shy

Talk about a double header… the White House team moved right from that event to the Navigators Global HQ, where a VIP reception was waiting.

The rest of the Global SOF Team, including many reps from our Corporate Partner companies, gathered to network and enjoy some refreshments in the cool venue that is the NG HQ. 

Not just a networking event, this served as an important precursor to the next day’s SOF Imperatives Forum. Not only did it allow attendees to have an early look at the 2020 SOF Imperatives document and foster discussion of the ideas within… we also had the opportunity to speak to one of the Forum’s supporting Senators!

Sen. Joni Ernst, who Co-chairs the Senate SOF Caucus, stopped by the reception to share some remarks about the events this week.

The Inaugural SOF Imperatives Forum
Global SOF Director of Government Relations Rick Lamb welcomes Senator Ernst to the Reception!

She spoke about what Congress has their eyes on, the discussions around the elevation of the ASD SO/LIC position, and as we’ll self-indulgently mention, what a great organization the Global SOF Foundation is! Thank you, Senator!

“So let me ask you all,” she said…”Any questions?” 

The 50-or-so folks in the room, mostly large men, many of whom were Veterans, were momentarily stunned by the opportunity to just ask any question they wanted of the Senator. But after the Army Veteran-turned-Senator expressed her disbelief that there were any shy folks in this crowd, the Q&A got rolling.

The Inaugural SOF Imperatives Forum
Sen. Joni Ernst receives a shield from Stu.

Senator Ernst was ready to answer everything thrown at her, and it was a rewarding opportunity for our guests to ask questions in an intimate venue. As Global SOF President Stu Bradin said to close out the session: “Thank you for being a SOF Champion.”

Convening on the Capitol

That leads us to the real reason for the season…the inaugural SOF Imperatives Forum! For the first time ever, our annual SOF Imperatives Document (see past editions here) came with its own focused discussion.

But the first big point we need to make about this event is to highlight the magnitude of the venue. We were able to put this day-long forum on at the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center, which is the marble-pillared, regal-statued type venue you would expect to see in the capital of the U.S.

The Inaugural SOF Imperatives Forum
Rick Lamb is ready for the SOF Imperatives Forum dark and early!

But back to the event itself. We kicked off the morning with three strong female voices.

Global SOF COO Meaghan Keeler-Pettigrew was first to speak, welcoming the nearly 200 attendees in the Auditorium and setting the tone of the day. She was followed by Linnea Gavrilis of Sponsoring Company EY, who provided an intro for the first Keynote Speaker….Sen. Ernst!

Sen. Joni Ernst joined us again this week, although now in a more formal setting, to provide an update on the Senate’s outlook on special operations. She emphasized the importance of SOF, stating that “We’ve seen SOF bring a unique blend of skill, tenacity, and capability that, when successfully employed, has an impact on mission success.”

The Inaugural SOF Imperatives Forum
L to R: Phil Anderson of Navigators Global, Stu Bradin, Sen. Joni Ernst, and Meaghan Keeler-Pettigrew.

The first panel session of the day focused on “The State of the Force” and was moderated by Lt Gen (Ret) Thomas Trask, a member of the Global SOF Advisory Council and former Vice Commander of USSOCOM. He was in good company, with Chris Miller, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Special Operations and Combating Terrorism, and VADM Tim Szymanski, the current Deputy Commander of USSOCOM.

The Inaugural SOF Imperatives Forum
VADM Tim Szymanski, Lt Gen (Ret) Tom Trask, and Mr. Chris Miller speak about the state of the force.

An overarching theme of the discussion was finding the balance between the ongoing mission to counter violent extremism, while also ensuring that the U.S. and its partner nations are prepared to counter near-peer competitors. See what Military Times had to say on that subject, here.

Mr. Chris Miller called the event and the discussions within “transformational,” saying that, “this event is the kick-off to making sure our leadership is thinking about this, and there’s not a better place it can start than the U.S. Capitol.”

“Bureaucracy Fights Change”

One strong recommendation within the 2020 SOF Imperatives document is to elevate the role of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations / Low-Intensity Conflict (ASD SO/LIC) to an Under Secretary position. This is something that we’ve discussed and researched for quite a while and are pushing hard for in 2020.

To that end, we had a great panel featuring three men who know that position best: former ASD SO/LICs. Michael Lumpkin, Brian Sheridan, and Mark Mitchell joined us to share their unique experiences with the role, and where they think it should go! Catherine Herridge of CBS News was kind enough to stop in and moderate the conversation. 

The Inaugural SOF Imperatives Forum
Three former ASD SO/LICs speak with Catherine Herridge.

All of the speakers agreed that special operations needs a real “seat at the table,” but that the downside of years of built up bureaucracy is an opposition to change. But as Mr. Sheridan said, this administration should fill the billets that are already there, and work to elevate the special operations seat.

The next panel had “small” in the name, but took on a topic that is anything but: “Small Business Support for SOF.” 

The Inaugural SOF Imperatives Forum
Global SOF Board Member Lori Larsen leads the Small Business panel.

One of our Small Business gurus and Member of the Global SOF Board of Directors, Lori Larsen, agreed to moderate this panel of experts. Those experts included Robb Wong from the Office of Government Contracting and BD for Small Business Administration, Mike McWilliams from the Office of Small Business Programs for the U.S. Air Force, and Pamela Callicutt from the Office of Small Business Programs for the U.S. Army.

They talked about the different ways that government organizations are working to ensure “maximum participation from small businesses.” And this was the panel that kept on giving… As soon as they ended, they all participated in a Small Business Q&A Lunch with Global SOF Small Business Corporate Partner representatives.

The Inaugural SOF Imperatives Forum
Small Business Q&A Lunch in action!

As one attendee said, “That lunch could have lasted all afternoon.” It was a rewarding back and forth that Global SOF’s Director of Partner Relations, Steve Jones, said had three big takeaways for the participants:

  1. Know your customer 
  2. Know the service requirements 
  3. Be prepared to partner with other small businesses 

Big thanks to our Small Business Corporate Partners who sponsored the lunch events: Akima, Axiologic Solutions, Comtech Systems, Norwich University, and Worldwide Risk Management.

“Thank you for the Imperatives document.”

The afternoon brought some of the day’s most anticipated events, which would be led by a new Master of Ceremonies from Sponsoring Company (and Global SOF Founding Partner), Textron! Brett Pierson is a former pilot himself, so he brought plenty of experience to his introductions and even helped us tap dance a few times when our busy speakers were running a tad late. Thank you, Brett!

The Inaugural SOF Imperatives Forum
Global SOF VP Dr. Keenan Yoho leads the panel focused on the future of the force.

He introduced the first panel of the afternoon, which was focused on the “Future of the Force,” and specifically “AI, Innovation, and Recruitment.” The panel was moderated by Global SOF VP Keenan Yoho, with panelists Gregory Allen, the Chief of Strategy and Communications for the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center, and Lt Gen James Slife, the Commander of Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC). 

While the enhanced capabilities coming from the new technologies was certainly discussed, an overall theme prevailed: “The technology by itself does nothing…it has to be combined with organizational reform” and “human capital.”

The Inaugural SOF Imperatives Forum
LTG (Ret) John Mulholland speaks to other leaders in the community about light attack support.

Lt Gen Slife is a world-class leader–he stuck around to speak on the next panel as well! And this panel called, “Light Attack Support for SOF,” ended up being one of the most talked about sessions of the day.

It was moderated by LTG (Ret) John Mulholland, former Deputy Commander of USSOCOM, and Rep. Mike Waltz (R-FL) and Rep. Jason Crow (D-CO) joined the generals to discuss.

The panel started with good news: “big” Air Force and USSOCOM “ended up completely aligned on the need for this capability,” said Slife, adding that we should, “expect them to move very quickly and rapidly to field [light attack support].”

It was also encouraging to hear Representatives Waltz and Crow talk about the bipartisanship that exists when they talk defense. “In the Armed Services Committee, we can roll up our sleeves and work across the aisle,” Waltz said.

Hear from real journalists! Defense One’s Patrick Tucker wrote about the panel here, as did Air Force Magazine’s Brian Everstine

And then… a vote was called in Congress! It’s great to see democracy in action, but…our last two speakers on the schedule were both US Congressmen. 

The Inaugural SOF Imperatives Forum
Congressman Peters takes time to speak to us about the importance of SOF.

Luckily for us, Rep. Scott Peters was already on-site, and while he couldn’t give his full keynote, he did still take the time to talk about a few topics.

He spoke about the military presence in his district and his views on the importance of trusting the military process and leaders to handle issues with ethics and sexual assault.

And then he put the real cherry on top of the entire event: he held up the 2020 SOF Imperatives document and said, “Thank you for the imperatives document. This is as good a piece of staff work that I’ve seen, and it’s in a format that’s already ready to start discussions…We’re going to take this document and work with it.”

What an amazing victory for our whole team–including all of our members and supporters who have helped us get to this milestone!

It was certainly time to celebrate! We had a great reception in the atrium of the building to discuss the day’s events and network.

The Inaugural SOF Imperatives Forum
We did it! The women of the Global SOF Foundation enjoying the reception post-event!

Thank you SO much to all of these excellent speakers, sponsors, and the 200+ event attendees!

Spirit of America (and Adventure)

But wait, there’s MORE?! Yes, there is. 

We also recorded a podcast while in town, with Jim Hake from Spirit of America! It’s a really fantastic and unique organization, so subscribe to SOFspot and standby for the episode to come out very soon.

Plus, we’ve launched our official Global SOF Adventure Flags! We’re bringing these with us around the world–or just to cool places we travel to. Where better to start than in the capital of the United States?

The Inaugural SOF Imperatives Forum
Rick and Stu hold an Adventure Flag in the White House while Chelsea and Catlyn brought one to the Washington Monument.

We were inspired to launch this by CSM (Ret) Warren Soeldner, who recently brought Global SOF to Antarctica. So if you’re a member and you’re going somewhere cool soon… let us know and we can “go” with you.

We have several smaller events coming this spring before our big Annual Tampa Reception in May, so visit our events page to register and join us.

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