Don’t miss yesterday’s blog about getting to Madrid and the EU/NATO SOF Seminar!

Welcoming Spanish Leadership

Global SOF Symposium – Europe: Day 1Wednesday, the 26th of September, marked the first full day of the Global SOF Symposium in Spain. The GSF team had an early start, making sure the Exhibit Hall was ready to be debuted and Registration was ready to roll. We also checked on the Marriott’s free breakfast buffet to make sure it was still delicious. (It was).

The Master of Ceremonies for the day was Mr. Robert Howe, the President and Chief Operating Officer of System High Corporation–a GSF Small Business Partner. Rob was awesome, and smoothly dealt with all of our last minute changes and requests throughout the day.

Our program started strong…after a few opening remarks from Rob and the public premiere of the GSF Modern Warfare Symposium video, we were honored to have General Fernando Alejandre Martínez, the Chief of Defense for Spain, speak to our guests.

Global SOF Symposium – Europe: Day 1The CHOD spoke about the importance of events like this Symposium, and the geographic importance of Spain in politics and defense. He called Spain the “breach” between Europe, Africa, and the Americas, and said that his country is working on increased cooperation with “Nations of common will,” despite cultural or political differences. The previous day’s EU/NATO Joint SOF Seminar was a great example of that.

The CHOD was followed by two other defense leaders in Spain–Major General Jaime Iñiguez Andrade, the Commander of the Spanish Joint Special Operations Command, better known as the MCOE, and Lt Col Alonso Burdalo. They both spoke about the founding and setup of the MCOE, as well as it’s mission. Maj. Gen. Iñiguez said that Spain is advancing it’s SOF, and events like this are an example of that advance.

A Senior Leader Conversation

Mr. Peter Bergen wears many hats–he’s an analyst for CNN, the Vice President of the New America think tank, and also the Chairman of the GSF Board of Directors. He also kindly agreed to moderate a Senior Leader Conversation with Mr. Garry Reid–the Director for Defense Intelligence for the U.S. Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence.

The two experts had an excellent, albeit somewhat “depressing” (as one audience member said), conversation about the current defense environment. Garry talked about the future, stating that “strategic assets would have to shift.” He does see that having an impact on SOF, but continued noting that “SOF is always creative and innovative…we can rely on our coalition partners, play off their strengths, to fill those gaps.”

Global SOF Symposium – Europe: Day 1

Peter and Garry took questions from the audience after their discussion, and we broke to continue those conversations in the Exhibit Hall for a coffee break.

The exhibit hall features 28 vendors, including a booth from our Platinum Sponsor Airbus that takes up a whole wall on its own! Airbus is also the Symposium’s Pen, Signage, and Mobile App sponsors… so we truly appreciate their support this week!

You can learn more about them, as well as the 27 other exhibitors, on this site or on the event app!

SOF and Media–definitely not Boring!

Freshly caffeinated, we headed back into the ballroom for a panel on “Media and SOF,” which was moderated by former Public Affairs Office (PAO) for USSOCOM, COL (Ret) Tim Nye.

Global SOF Symposium – Europe: Day 1

Joining him on stage was Mr. Jim Foster, a former SAS Sergeant Major (Tim assured us–he’s legit) and current documentarian; Mr. Jeff Newton of National Geographic; and Captain Jason Salata, the current USSOCOM PAO.

As one attendee told us, “I expected that to be boring, but it was awesome!” First of all–how dare you. And second of all–of course it was! The gentlemen had a very interesting and enlightening discussion, which even featured a never-before-seen “sizzle reel” for a show that Jeff has in the works. As Ms. Eileen Parise said during the Q&A, it certainly “struck an emotional chord.”

Of course, part of the discussions focused on the now infamous “fake news” and how these gentlemen are working on “getting the right message that will resonate with these different audiences.” Media isn’t going away, and they discussed finding that balance of providing information to the public and protecting OPSEC. As CAPT Salata said, “in the future, a soldier’s ability to navigate the information domain will be part of how he/she is rated.”

Global SOF Symposium – Europe: Day 1An Interactive Lunch

Next came the Symposium’s first networking lunch, which was generously sponsored by another GSF Small Business Partner — Tampa Microwave! One of their terminals was in the main lunchroom as the centerpiece, enticing curious lunch-goers to stop by their booth to learn more.

European lunch is a little different than what we’re used to…but actually much more interactive and ultimately more social. The wonderful staff of the Madrid Marriott Auditorium provided attendees with many different (and delicious) passed hors d’oeuvres, allowing attendees the opportunity to stand and network or learn from vendors.

The Bad Kind of Networking…then the Good Kind

The last two sessions featured solo speakers–the first was Mr. John Fernandez of the DEA. He discussed the dangers and actions of “Illicit Networks” across the globe–specifically for Hezbollah. It’s worrying to hear about the creative and extensive means that Hezbollah has taken to traffic drugs and launder money. Especially, as Mr. Fernandez said, when they do things like “trade drugs for military intelligence instead of for money.”

Global SOF Symposium – Europe: Day 1

It was not all doom and gloom, however. Mr. Fernandez also talked about many of the successes of the DEA, and the ways that they’ve cooperated with other nations to help catch many of these “bad guys.”

The final speaker was Mr. Kelly “Gator” Dunn, who did the first SOF Slam of the event. If you’re new to GSF events, a SOF Slam is a shorter talk, no more than 30 minutes, that focus in on a specific, SOF-relevant topic. Gator’s SOF Slam was on Electronic Warfare, but more specifically on the “Challenges in the Electromagnetic Environment.” It was another good reminder of the ways that our one of our most used tools–our smartphones–can be working against us.

Global SOF Symposium – Europe: Day 1With a healthy fear of our phones and drug networks fresh in our hearts, we went on to something more light-hearted… the Exhibit Hall networking reception! This venue in Madrid is great for our Exhibitors, as the Exhibit Hall is right outside of the Symposium doors. The booths have been receiving a lot of visitors, but this event gave them the opportunity to have even more!

As with the previous night, the reception went late–over an hour longer than planned! But when there’s tasty food and engaging conversation, we made it hard to leave!

The first full day of the Symposium is a wrap, but tune back in for a recap of Day 2…

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Update: Read about Day 2 here!

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