The Global Special Operations Forces (SOF) Foundation is just over three years old, and with everything that we’ve done in those three years, yesterday may have been the most impactful.

 

The Symposium launched with a reception on Tuesday night at the Garden of the JW Marriott Bucharest Grand Hotel, the venue for the entire Symposium. It was a bit windy, but it was still a great opportunity for guests to meet one another and prepare for the week. The reception was sponsored by Inmarsat and ACS Technology, both of which are also Gold Sponsors of the Symposium. Both GSF President Stu Bradin and Inmarsat representative Daan Ruhe took the opportunity to welcome everyone to the Symposium.

The next morning, we began the first full day of the Symposium with some pastries and coffee–kindly sponsored by a GSF Founding Partner- World Wide Technology (WWT). Freshly fueled up, attendees strolled the Exhibit Hall, which was placed directly outside of the Grand Ballroom amidst all of the action. With 25 booths that featured 35 exhibiting companies, there were plenty of services and technologies to discover.

We also had a special morning session only open to GSF Corporate Partners, which was focused on doing business in Ukraine and hosted by Mr. Oleksandr Danylyuk.

As our Corporate Partners learned about Ukraine, the rest of the 300+ event attendees began to arrive and fill the Grand Ballroom, ready for the first big event of the day. The President of GSF Corporate Partner Spatial Networks, Mr. Tony Quartararo, joined Stu on stage to provide welcoming remarks to the audience.

Stu had the amazing honor of meeting and introducing the President of Romania, Mr. Klaus Werner Iohannis, the first time the Foundation has hosted a Head of State. His Excellency provided remarks on defense in Romania, and was accompanied on stage by the Minister of Defense, Mr. Mihai Fifor and Chief of Defense General Cuica. Stu presented him with a GSF Shield as a token of our appreciation.

His Excellency moved right from the Exhibit Hall to another unique element of the event – the Romanian SOF Static Display. “ROUSOF” brought in some of their current systems and participated in the Symposium all day, explaining the tech and their unclassified capabilities with attendees–starting with His Excellency Mr. Iohannis.

After the departure of the President, we rolled right into a panel on the impact of hybrid warfare on regional security, moderated by Ms. Linda Robinson of RAND Corporation. Linda’s group each provided remarks, after which she led a discussion between representatives from Ukraine and Lithuania. Mr. Vytautas Ubrasas, the Vice Minister of National Defense for Lithuania, said, “We are sharing information but not working as a team to counter these hybrid threats,” later adding that the “hybrid threats are region-specific and require unconventional solutions.” We hope that opening this dialogue will help the region move forward into discovery of those solutions.

After a networking break that provided an opportunity for more coffee, exhibit viewing, and introductions, we moved into concurrent panels. In the Constanta Ballroom, Ms. Catherine Herridge of Fox News lead a discussion on terrorism in Europe with Lieutenant Colonel Asbjorn Lysgard of Norway and Colonel Manuel Javier Martinez Martin of Spain. The former stated that “today’s biggest terrorist threat is the simple attacks we are seeing in Europe, and what makes them effective is the simplicity.” The group discussed indicators of terrorism as well as potential solutions, with Lieutenant Colonel Lysgard saying that “information sharing is the most important need in order to successfully counter terrorist threats.” The panelists bonded during their preparation for the event, and chatted as a group long before and well after their session.

In the Grand Ballroom, Mr. Garry Reid, the Director for Defense Intelligence for the U.S. Department of Defense, led a panel titled, “Security in the Black Sea Region.” Accompanied on stage by Colonel Nikoloz Janjgava (Georgia), Colonel Andrii Kucheriavyi (Ukraine), Brigadier General Iavor Mateev (Bulgaria), and Major General Marian Sima (Romania). The group discussed the “frozen conflict” in the region, and how it can be combatted. Major General Sima stated that, “this special forces community that we are trying to strengthen will be a very good tool to counter classical and asymmetric military risks.” He noted that he hopes the Romanian SOF Headquarters will be officially stood up by January 1st of 2018.

Next was everyone’s favorite event–lunch! Sponsored by RTO Consulting, the food was plentiful and delicious no matter what language you speak. The 1.5 long hour event gave attendees ample time to meet, talk, and view demos in the exhibit hall.

After we were all well fed, we moved back into the Grand Ballroom for a presentation by the Deputy Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, General Sir James Everard. The General, who was introduced by Gold Sponsor Inmarsat’s representative Daan Ruhe, gave a short presentation on efforts by NATO, after which he sat with journalist Angus Batey for a more conversational presentation. In response to a question about international SOF’s approach to the future, General Sir Everard said that “getting the SOF community to speak with one voice is a priority.”

After a short technical difficulty, we moved into the event’s SOF Slam. SOF Slam’s are TED-talk-esque presentations by a dynamic speaker who focuses on a SOF-relevant topic. They are fairly short and always interesting, so they are always a crowd pleaser. This one was no exception! Our “slammer,” Colonel Saulius Guzevicius of Lithuania, gave a very educational and researched presentation on Information Operations in Eastern Europe. He opened with the theme that “today it’s not a challenge to get information. It’s a challenge to get the truth” and elaborated on that concept with an Eastern European approach.

To close out the first day of the Symposium, we were honored by the return of the Romanian Minister of Defense, Mr. Mihai Fifor. Although he had to catch a flight shortly, he still returned to speak and thank everyone for attending.

Now that the formal events were over, it was time to let our hair down with a Networking Reception sponsored by DigitalGlobe. The two hour event became a three hour event as the bartenders generously extended their hours to support the ongoing conversations. Luckily, there is one more day of the Symposium for those conversations to continue…check back in tomorrow for a summary of Day 2!