The editor of SOF News spent some time in Charleston, West Virginia attending the 2019 Special Forces Association National Convention. The event took place 13-17 August, 2019. This was the 43rd annual convention of the SFA. This year’s theme was “A Tribute to Our Gold Star Families”.
The Special Forces Association holds an annual convention every year. Last year the 2018 SFA convention was held in El Paso, Texas. SFA Chapter IX – also known as the Isaac Camacho Chapter – did an excellent job planning, coordinating, preparing, and conducting the 2018 annual gathering of former and current Green Berets.
This year’s 2019 SFA Convention hosted by SFA chapter LXVIII was a great time as well. There were a lot of activities to participate in to include a visit to the state capitol, riverfront activities, Gold Star Bike Ride, air show, picnic, showing of the movie 12 Strong, pistol / shotgun range, golf tournament, SOF equipment static displays, Black Daggers jumping, an evening banquet, and more.
Scheduled almost everyday were presentations and panel discussions on unconventional warfare, RC/AC SOF integration, and other topics of interest for the convention attendees. There was a robust program set up for spouses for their enjoyment. Various raffles were held – some for SF memorabilia, cruises, and other interesting items. Chapter 26 (Maryland) held a raffle for an ADCOR AR 5.56/.223 cal rifle.
A number of Charleston, West Virginia hotels hosted the attendees with most events held at the Marriott Town Center and Embassy Suites. Hospitality suites were found in the Marriott, Embassy Suites, and Holiday Inn Express. The Rhode Island chapter had the nicest view – on the Marriott “Mountain View” 14th floor – and the West Virginia chapter seemed to be open for many hours with drinks and snacks readily available.
The convention organizers did a fine job of integrating aspects of West Virginia life into the overall event. Many West Virginia firms and organizations sponsored and provided samples for viewing, tasting, or drinking (!). Among those was the Mountain State Distillery – advertised as Charleston’s only Moonshine Distillery.
An event this large and successful requires a number of sponsors. This makes the convention a success and financially feasible for the many attendees. Charleston, West Virginia really stepped up as did many other organizations from across the country. Major contributors included the Green Beret Foundation, Special Forces Charitable Trust, USAA, Azimuth Inc., Oak Grove Technologies, St. Michael’s Inc., and the West Virginia National Guard.
Meet the Vendors
The vendors displaying their services and products made the convention more interesting and many attendees went home with new books, badges, pins, and more to add to their SF memorabilia and libraries. The two vendor locations were adjacent to the seminar room and in the main hospitality suite – allowing attendees to pursue the many vendor tables during downtime. Listed below are some of the vendors that were present.
Books. Jason Hardy had his books about MACV SOG on display and for sale. SFA Chapter 17, the Smokey Mountains Chapter, had copies of SAGE: The Man they called ‘Dagger’ of the O.S.S. for sale. Phillips Publications was selling one of their books entitled This Ain’t No S**t. Another book present at the convention was JP Hastings’ 1st Special Forces Regiment: An Evolving Tapestry.
SF Paraphernalia. A number of vendors had badges, pins, stickers, watches, caps, T-shirts, and more for purchase. Vendors with these items included Operator Style, Excalibur Industries, and others. The JFK Special Warfare Museum Association had gift store products available as well.
For most attendees to the SFA convention Tuesday was a travel day. For those who arrived early in the day the registration desks were open and the main Hospitality Suite on the 3rd floor of the Marriott was the initial meeting spot for searching out old friends.
Golf Tournament. Almost all SFA conventions include some golfing. The golf event was the opening feature for Wednesday with early morning risers linking up with their teammates to compete against other attendees. The tournament was held at the Berry Hills Country Club and was sponsored by the Green Beret Foundation.
Welcoming Message. Kevin Harry, the president of the West Virginia SFA chapter provided the welcome message to the attendees. The Mayor of Charleston, Amy Shuler Goodwin, and the West Virginia Adjutant General James Hoyer also delivered their welcome messages.
SFA 2019 Welcome Night. West Virginia treated the convention attendees with a special night at the West Virginia Capital Complex in Charleston. Tours were available of the Governor’s Mansion, the Capital Building, and the Cultural Center State Museum and Gift Shop. The museum tour was exceptional – providing a glimpse of West Virginia history through time. Food, beer, wine, and music were provided during the evening event. Members of the 2/19th SFG performed a tactical insertion along the Kanawha River.
SFA Presidents Meeting. This gathering of chapter presidents provided Gary Koenitzer, the SFA president, the opportunity to update chapter representatives on the way forward for the organization. Several administration details and pending issues were presented and discussed. SFA membership is over 10,000 with 89 chapters from around the world. The association Secretary provided an update to the Saint Phillip Neri Award Program which is run by the association.
Spouses Meeting. This meeting was an occasion for the Green Beret spouses to meet old friends and make new ones.
SFA Spouse Appreciation Luncheon. A mid-day lunch was held in honor of the Special Forces wives present for the convention. The event, held at the Marriott, was sponsored by the Green Beret Foundation.
SF AC / RC Integration. A presentation was made by several people on the successes and challenges of the active, reserve, and National Guard Special Forces working together during training and on deployments. Lots of discussion about deployment optempo and training status of RC / NG SF personnel and units. Other topics mentioned during the meeting were the critical civilian skills, experience, and maturity that NG SF teams brought to the table.
Dreama Denver. The wife of actor Bob Denver is an actress, writer, and radio station owner. She provided information about her charitable foundation – The Denver Foundation – which is dedicated to assisting special needs children and their families.
LL on SFA Conventions. President Gary Koenitzer presided over a discussion of lessons learned from previous SFA conventions. What went right, wrong, and more on past conventions and how to improve future ones.
’12 Strong’. Multiple showings took place throughout the day at the Park Place Stadium Cinemas of the movie based on the book by Doug Stanton entitled Horse Soldiers. The movie, 12 Strong, was released in January 2018 and depicts the exploits of SFODA 595 after it linked up with elements of the Northern Alliance near Mazer-e-Sharif, Afghanistan in the fall of 2002. So . . . it is a Hollywood product, with lots of pyrotechnics and more than a few elements that had some SF guys raising their eyebrows and scratching their heads. But it is good entertainment that casts the SF team in a good light.
General Membership Meeting. Many of the attendees took the opportunity to listen to presentations by the officers of the association on the status of membership (growing), finances (sound), projects, scholarship program, The Drop (it will continue to be printed), website improvements, and upcoming projects.
Special Forces Oral History Project. Lyle Hendrick introduced his recently established project that is collecting an oral history of Special Forces. He is working in conjunction with the South Carolina Veterans Oral History Collection. During his presentation he mentioned that there were 168 SFA members who passed away over the past year; and 168 personal histories about Special Forces lost. He conducted several recorded interviews during the convention. A recent news article provides more information on the project. Read “Oral Histories of the Green Berets”, The Epoch Times, April 26, 2019.
Montagnard SITREP. A representative from the ‘Save the Montagnard People’ provided a brief on the status of the Montagnards in Vietnam and of the organizations projects in the United States.
Gold Star Family Luncheon. The Embassy Suites was the venue for a mid-day lunch held to honor the Gold Star Family members that were attending the convention. Medal of Honor recipient Hershel ‘Woody’ Williams provided remarks following the luncheon. This event was sponsored by USAA.
UW Panel Discussion. The Embassy Suites was the location for an informative presentation on contemporary unconventional warfare. The panel members did a brief on the authorities, organization, and doctrine of UW. This was followed by a deep dive into UW in the Baltic region. Presented was the Resistance Operating Concept (ROC) developed by Special Operations Command Europe and its other NATO allies that will contribute to deterring and resisting aggression in Eastern Europe.
Live on the Levee on Friday Evening. A short walk away (although transportation was provided) was the Charleston Riverfront. Music, food, and beverages were available during the evening. And, of course, the hospitality suites were open as well. Performances were by Dillon Carmichael and Charles Wesley Godwin.
Gold Star Morning Motorcycle Ride. A very large group of riders toured the surrounding countryside and ended their journey at the airfield where the SFA picnic was being held. U.S. Senator (WV) Joe Manchin was the special guest Road Captain. This was in conjunction with the 5th Annual Ride for Fallen Service Heroes.
“It is my honor to serve as the Road Captain and organize the Fifth Annual Ride for Fallen Service Heroes. I thank all those involved today – the riders, our sponsors, the coordinating committee and everyone who had a hand in this ride. Most of all, I thank Gold Star Families who bear the high cost of keeping this nation free. Today, and every day, we pay our deepest respect to you. We are a nation indebted to your sacrifice.”A message from Senator Joe Manchin (WV).
SFA Picnic and Air Show. The picnic was held at the McLaughlin Air National Guard Base in Charleston, West Virginia. Food was provided by the WV Vietnam Veterans of America and Outback Steakhouse. 2/19th SFG (NG SF WV) provided a static display of weapons, parachutes, and ATVs. The West Virginia National Guard also had a C-17, C-130, UH-60, and LUH-72 aircraft on display.
Several parachute jumps took place for the crowd to enjoy performed by the USASOC Black Daggers and the Special Forces Association Parachute Team (SFAPT). The arrival of a few hundred motorcycles that participated in the 5th Annual Ride for the Fallen Service Heroes was a highlight. Entertainment was provided by Russ Preston (formerly of 10th SFGA), Friends with the Devil, and others. The Gold Star families present were recognized by MG James Hoyer and others.
2019 SFA Banquet. The banquet, held on Saturday evening at the Charleston Coliseum and Convention Center, was a very nice event. It started with social hour. The evening began with the singing of the national anthem by Rachel Messer Dale and an invocation. The guest speaker was MG James Hoyer, the Adjutant General of West Virginia. The meal was excellent, a photographer stood by to take pictures of Green Berets all dressed up, and the event ended with the playing of the Ballad of the Green Beret by Rusty Preston, a former 10th SFGA soldier, and the playing of the Army Song by the 249th Army Band. Folks then retired to their rooms or joined in festivities at the many hospitality suites.
This was a travel day. Some departed early while others enjoyed one more breakfast with old friends. Promises were made by many to attend next year’s convention in Florida.
Old Comrades and New Friends
One of the more enjoyable parts of these annual conventions is meeting up with old comrades and making new friends. There was plenty of opportunity for comradeship in the hospitality suites within each of the primary host hotels. A part of our SF history that is slowly fading is the U.S. Army Special Forces role in the Vietnam War. The reminiscing of the many Vietnam War veterans who attend was fascinating to listen in on. Equally interesting were the more recent activities of Special Forces in places like Africa, South America, Asia, Middle East, and other parts of the world.
Next year the convention will be held in Destin, Florida hosted by Special Forces Association Chapter 7. It should be an exciting time in a very nice setting.
Photos: Some photos in this article are by the author. Some photos are by Edwin L. Wriston, the official photographer for the 2019 SFA Association Convention and a Public Affairs Specialist with the West Virginia National Guard.