Don’t start in the middle! Read about Day 1 first.

The first full day of this year’s US Symposium began at 9 AM for most of our attendees, but like most GSF events, we started out with something exclusive for our Corporate Partners. This year we had a special breakfast that included remarks from GSF President Stu Bradin, who expounded on the Capabilities Catalog and upcoming events and the many ways that Corporate Partners should be using them to their advantage. He was followed by a special guest speaker from the government, who spoke about the future of computer systems on which information can be securely shared between partnered nations.

The full complement of attendees began to flow in after 8, ensuring that they got some coffee (sponsored by GSF Founding Partner CACI) and a chance to peruse the Symposium’s first-ever Exhibit Hall. The Exhibit Hall was added because previous attendees and Corporate Partners told us that they wanted the chance to bring in some of their wares to supplement conversations. While we still do not intend to host a traditional trade show, as one attendee stated:

“The booth allowed me to have a place to bring people and demo our capabilities to add a tangible element to our conversations.”

The program for the day was introduced by GSF Corporate Partner representative and Mistress of Ceremonies for the day: Lori Larsen of Celestar. Lori also serves on the GSF Board of Directors, and she provided and fresh and dynamic voice throughout the day.

She introduced the first speaking event of the program: a Senior Leader Conversation between the GSF’s Chairman of the Board, Peter Bergen, and Derek Maltz, the former Special Agent in Charge of the DEA’s Special Operations Division. This may be the most talked about event of the Symposium–his stories and experiences in counter-terror and -threat finance were both fascinating and terrifying, and we’re certain that the attendees in the audience won’t look at their phones, purchases, or financial services the same way again.

Joe Musselman, fresh from the previous day’s SOF for Life Seminar, joined the Dr. Keenan Yoho, the GSF Vice President, on the stage to talk about another part of the program–the SOF for Life Survey. This survey was first launched in August of 2016, and with over 550 respondents from the SOF community, they had some interesting results to share with the audience. In short, many SOF veterans are not getting enough support as they transition from Active Duty to civilian life.

After a networking break, the agenda brought us the first set of concurrent panels: “Modern Warfare” took place in Inverness while the more niche “SOF Medical Support and Training” panel was a refreshing walk away in Stirling Hall.

The “Modern Warfare” panel featured a diverse group, ranging from academia’s Dr. Seth Jones to former Special Forces Operator and current VP of CACI, COL (Ret) Mark Rosengard. The Vice Minister of Defense for Lithuania and the Deputy Chief of Defense for Operations and Training for Romania both added interesting perspectives from their region, while the Commander of the U.S. Marine Corps Central Command discussed his goals for the Marines. As Rosengard stated afterwards, he was honored to be with this group and spend time preparing with them, learning about the different approaches to the changing battlefield but also figuring out where we can connect and collaborate.

In a small but very engaged audience led by moderator Colonel Daniel Irizarry, the panel on “SOF Medical Support and Training” was interactive and featured a variety of videos to support speakers’ points. Irizarry asked questions from the crowd about their specific needs and scenarios, while answers were fielded by the panelists: Dr. Robert Walker of the Army’s Office of the Surgeon General, Lt. General (Ret) Keith C. Walker, the former Deputy Commander of TRADOC, and Dr. Adrian Murphy of NATO Special Operations Medicine Development Initiative. They had interesting ideas on the future and standardization of SOF Medical Training, discussing the benefits of virtual versus hands-on training.

Taco Tuesday, a delicious spread provided by the Innisbrook Resort, and the opening of the Beer Garden, sponsored again this year by GSF Small Business Partner System High, provided a nice afternoon break, which was followed by a special set of events featuring the first of two of the year’s GSF Lifetime Achievement Award: Ambassador Pedro Morenés, Spain’s Ambassador to the United States and its Former Minister of Defense.

Amb. Morenés provided a Keynote Speech, discussing the importance of SOF to Spain’s Ministry of Defense and the importance of trust and unity among defense forces in Europe. After his remarks, Dr. Yoho returned to the stage, this time to tell the story of Amb. Morenés career and impact on the Special Operations community. Dr. Yoho’s remarks were accompanied by a slideshow of photos of Morenés with various SOF units throughout Spain and across his tenure as MOD. To much applause, Amb. Morenés returned to the stage with GSF President Stu Bradin, who presented him with the iconic large metal shield that is only given to recipients of this award.

Another set of concurrent panels followed, the first of which was focused on “Building SOF Aviation”. Moderated by the former Vice Commander of USSOCOM, Lt. Gen. (Ret) Thomas Trask, and accompanied by representatives from France, Norway, Poland, and the U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC), the group discussed the many elements required to build and maintain aviation capabilities for special operations units.

Bold Quest, an exercise held annually that was featured at a partner breakfast last year, was featured in a panel this year. Led by Bold Quest representative John Miller, this panel enjoyed the intimate setting of Stirling Hall to get an interactive explanation of the exercise and its many benefits, including ways to get involved.

After an energy break, featuring custom packets of chocolate branded for its Sponsor, Fluor, there was one more major event of the day: the presentation of a second GSF Lifetime Achievement Award. It may seem like we were feeling generous this year, but both recipients were so deserving that we weren’t able to wait another year to honor and recognize them.

Staff General Talib Shigati Mshari Al Kenani, who in the words of Stu Bradin has been the key to “saving not only Iraq, but the Middle East,” was the second recipient. Dr. Yoho again provided a stirring recap of General Al Kenani’s career, which brought the crowd to their feet as the General received his award. With the support of an interpreter, General Al Kenani shared his appreciation with the crowd.

We also recognized all of the newest GSF Corporate Partners from the past year with tokens of their GSF membership. As we’ve grown quite a bit this year, the group was a bit too big to fit on the stage!

If you know the GSF, you know that we don’t end any day without a party. The Exhibit Hall evening reception was sponsored by Roving Blue, a company that provides tools to purify water in austere environments, and Maxar Technologies, which recently purchased GSF Founding Partner DigitalGlobe. As always, we stayed at least an hour past closing time, making new connections and telling tales of years past with good beverages and a lot of meat and potatoes.

Check out the photos from the day here, and click here to read on about the third and final day of the Symposium.