This is the first in a series of blog posts about our event: the Special Air Warfare Symposium (SAWS), which took place in Ft. Walton Beach, FL from 28 FEB – 2 MAR 2023.
In 2022, the Global SOF Foundation hosted its inaugural Special Air Warfare Symposium–an event that highlighted aviation and supporting capabilities in the SOF domain. With 30+ exhibitors and 500+ attendees–including many from the nearby Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) and 7th Group–we considered it a great success!
However, on the final day of the event, we awoke to bad news: Russia had invaded Ukraine. This aggression changed the tone of the rest of the event and reframed many of our sessions and conversations over the course of the day.
A year later, we are back in Ft. Walton Beach for our second rendition of the event–and the fighting in Ukraine unfortunately rages on. We’ve made discussions of the situation and capability gaps a central pillar of this year’s event–bolstered by participation from several members of Ukraine’s Defense Forces who were able to make it to Florida from Kiev.
Other major focal points of our discussions include SOF aviation, transforming the force, global competition, and much more!
But before these events happened on stage, we had to get the event kicked off… read on to learn more about “Day 0” of the 2023 Special Air Warfare Symposium!
On the Road Again!
Ft. Walton Beach is about a 6 hour drive from Tampa, where most of the Global SOF team is based. It’s not a bad drive… it’s not a great flight… so our team all found their preferred medium and headed to the various airports and roadways that can get you to the beautiful beaches of the Florida panhandle.
All except for Chelsea and Kate, of course! They drew the short straws that put them in the driver and passenger seats of the U-Haul. Luckily, it had been “expertly” loaded by a bunch of retired military, so it was packed very efficiently and not at all like a game of Jenga in its final stages.
The team started rolling into town on Sunday afternoon, meeting at our trusty event host hotel: The Island Resort. It’s a unique non-chain hotel that won our hearts several years ago and continues to be our go-to lodging when we come to the area.
It’s beachfront, has a pool grotto, and very close to the Destin-Ft. Walton Beach Convention Center. So even though it can be a bit tricky to navigate, it’s become our SAWS team HQ.
We all had plenty of work to tackle upon arrival, but we decided that working from the beach in front of a beautiful sunset wasn’t so bad…
Putting a Focus on our Government Reps
Monday was a busy day for our Global SOF team. Half of us spent the day getting Destin-Ft. Walton Beach Convention Center setup and ready to go, while Stu, Meaghan, and Dave went to AFSOC with our J3-International partners for a tour and meetings.
Meaghan even got to detonate an IED on a pick-up truck… to quote Stu: “Hertz won’t be getting that rental back anytime soon!” He was joking, of course…probably…maybe??
Tuesday morning was when things really started to kick off, with a day that we traditionally focus on our military and government representatives.
There are two key components: the first is a SOF for Life Seminar, which is run by our partners at The Honor Foundation and focuses on supporting transitioning or recently transitioned SOF and SOF enablers in finding their “why” after their military service ends. They had double-digit attendees who were all very engaged and focused on self-reflection, including one military spouse in attendance.
One attendee said: “I wish it was something I had done 18 months ago, but the information is still relevant to me now! I already told all of my friends who are getting out soon that they need to sign up for a full THF Cohort ASAP.”
The second government-focused component was Professional Development, or Pro-Dev Day. This was only open to our military and government civilian attendees, and featured a great mix of speakers:
- AFSOC Introduction with Major General Matthew Wolfe Davidson, Deputy Commander of AFSOC
- The National Defense Strategy in Practice: The Role of SOF in Integrated Deterrence with Colonel Adrian Donahoe, Deputy Director of J5 at SOCOM
- PEO Fixed Wing and PEO Rotary Wing 101 with Mr. Geoffrey Downer, Program Executive Officer for Rotary Wing at SOCOM and Colonel Kenneth Kuebler, Program Executive Officer for Fixed Wing at SOCOM
- The STOL Concept for Belgium’s SOF with Major Mark Goris, ACOS Operations and Training – Special Operations Command, Belgium
- Talent Management with Dr. Jonathan Schroden, Director, Countering Threats and Challenges Program at the Center for Naval Analysis
The first session especially was a great scene-setter for the whole week in terms of how AFSOC was transforming itself to be successful in strategic competition.
The room was packed all day long, and the attendees from both groups were able to come together for a networking lunch halfway through the day.
124 meetings… and counting!
If you’re a member of industry and you’re feeling a bit left out–you can turn that “boo” into a “woooo” because we also had sessions for industry on Tuesday.
Industry Matchmaking is officially a staple of SAWS. For two-years running, it has been a popular and impactful opportunity for our industry attendees, put on by our partners at govmates.
This is a two-hour business-to-business program that matches large “primes” with small businesses to discuss opportunities for collaboration.
We had 14 large companies participate, including Boeing, Avantus, Honeywell, Dynetics, Leidos, L3 Harris, Jacobs, CACI, Anduril, HII, Planet, Qineteq, Parsons, and MAG Aerospace!
Overall, the session featured 124 meetings and the capabilities discussed included ISR, Counter UAS, Electronic Warfare, SIGINT, Air mobility, and others!
As one small business attendee said: “Thank you so much for helping us make these connections. Your great ability to switch on the fly and line us up for meetings was much appreciated!”
Flexibility is the name of our game, and we love that govmates is on board with us!
After a lot of meeting, thinking, and speaking, it was time to drop some formality and bring all of the event attendees together for a Welcome Reception at The Island Resort!
We were up on the 6th floor and the 200+ attendees were treated to sprawling views of the white sand beaches below. Thanks to our sponsors at Navigators Global, we had plenty of food and drink to go around and reunions and introductions were happening left and right and left again!
A huge thank you to everyone who attended “Day 0” of the Special Air Warfare Symposium… we are excited to see what the first FULL day has to bring!
Check out the website for the full agenda, and we’ll see you there!
Had lunch yesterday with Larry Ropka like last year. Rehashed “sea stories” about Son Tay Raid and rehearsed-170 times at Hurlburt. Mentioned AFSOC Commander remarks about the Raid. Larry had kind words about you and the young folks who sure make the generals look good!