SFACON 2023 was held during May 22-26, 2023 in Indianapolis, Indiana. The Special Forces Association members, past and current, gathered together to renew old friendships and make new friends, listen to an interesting and variety of speakers, and enjoy a number of enjoyable activities. And, of course, thousands of ‘war stories’ were exchanged during the course of the five days.
The speakers at the SFA Symposium (scroll down page for biographies of speakers) provided a mix of information and entertainment. Some were funny, some updated the assembly on the latest news about special operations, some provided an in-depth analysis of current events or historical aspects of Special Forces, while others provided insight into the complex problems confronting Green Berets and their families during and after their service.
The convention took place at the Wyndham Indianposlis West hotel. The hospitality suite, open all week, featured a cash bar, plenty of seating, and the Green Beret Marketplace where vendors displayed coins, books, t-shirts, and other types of GB swag. Indianapolis offers a variety of attractions to include the Indy Monuments & Memorials Tour, Indy 500 Museum, Museum of Art, Dallara IndyCar Factory Tour, and Conner Prairie. The registration desk at the conference was open all day, every day to assist with visits to city attactions and tours.
Monday, May 22nd
This was arrival day for most of the Green Berets. Registration began in the afternoon, followed by a social gathering. Welcoming speeches provided information about the coming week. The cash bar had a brisk business as everyone settled down in the hospitality suite. Old friends met once again and broke into their familiar groups to catch up with each other. A number of vendors were open for business in the Green Beret Marketplace set up in the hospitality suite.
Tuesday, May 23rd
SFA President’s Meeting. Special Forces Association President Kevin Harry provided an update on the current status of the SF association. The membership of the SFA remains strong at over 11,000 current members. There are 94 SFA chapters across the United States and around the world. A chapter will soon be formed in Key West. The quarterly print magazine, The Drop, is seeing some changes. Members will have the option to select a print copy or to view the periodical in digital form; the default will be digital. The association is exploring more ways to leverage technology to manage day-to-day operations. There were also updates by other SFA officers to include the treasurer, secretary, and special projects officer Chris Bell. Jeremy Miller of Chapter 500 welcomed the attendees to SFACON 2023. Pete Tingstrom provided a brief on the October 2024 SFA Caribbean Cruise.
BG Lawrence Ferguson, Deputy Commander of the 1st Special Forces Command, provided an update on the SF command and what is coming in the future. The command has been busy; over 3,000 of its 23,000 members are currently deployed to over 70 countries. He commented on the success of the 18X program, citing its importance to the personnel strength of the SFODAs. He presented two short videos about Special Forces entitled “The Why” and “The How” (YouTube). Colonel Matt Valas, commander of the 20th Special Forces Group, gave the audience a brief on the two National Guard Special Forces groups to include training, deployments, state mission, federal mission, Rep 63 recruitment, and more. Jeff Man, a former employee of the National Security Agency (NSA) and information security expert gave a brief on his career with the NSA and the infamous Special Forces ‘whiz wheel’ used in the past by 18E’s.
Alex Quade, a war reporter with ties to SF units that deployed overseas, presented screenings of her documenties on SF teams deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq. MSG (R) John Armezzani, Veterans Services Director of the Green Beret Foundation, spoke to the audience about services available to veterans after separation from the military. SFC (R) Greg Stube, a retired 18D and book author, recounted his struggle to recover from serious wounds suffered in Afghanistan and provided his input on how to overcome adversity in life. Gayle Becwar, a comedian and magician, performed in the evening with some very good magical feats. On Tuesday afternoon a Green Beret motorcycle ride took place around the Indianapolis area.
Wednesday, May 25th
LTG (R) David Fridovich provided a detailed brief on the beginning years of CJSOTF-P; the establishment of the special operations task force in the Philippines that had its origin in the fall of 2001. While serving as the 1st SFG(A) commander, Fridovich conducted an initial site survey of the Philippines with the task of identifying future SOF assistance to that nation in 2001 and for many years after. COL (R) Ken Hurst gave a presentation of the logistical challenges of supporting the 10th Special Forces Group’s entry into Northern Iraq during the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) in early 2003. At the time, Hurst was the 10th SFG(A) Support Battalion commander. COL (R) Dave Maxwell delivered a presentation entitled “An Unconventional Warfare Mindset: The Philosophy of Special Forces Must be Sustained”; later published by Small Wars Journal. He traces the Unconventional Warfare mindset back to the days of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) during World War II. He made mention of how SOCEUR assisted Ukraine over the past several years with the implementation of the Resistance Operating Concept and how the U.S. should be helping Taiwan with adopting a ‘porcupine defense‘.
Dr. Alice Atalanta gave a presentation where, how, and why Green Berets can study philosophy; citing the works of philosophers like Seneca, Cicereo, and Dante. She is an author and an advocate for the special operations community. LTC (R) Jeff Tiegs, COO of All Things Possible Ministries, provided a motivational speech for the GBs and their wives in attendence. Eric Prince, former Navy SEAL and Blackwater founder, attended the evening VIP Mixer and spoke to the audience. The evening ended with a dinner buffet, an auction, and a live band.
Thursday, May 27th
Thursday kicked off with Kevin Harry convening a general membership meeting for all attendees providing additional information on the status of the association; with several of the association officers providing reports on projects, programs, activities, and finances. The morning ended with a presentation by MSG Geoffry Dardia (3rd SFG) discussing ‘operator syndrome’ and how current and former GBs can take ownership of their health and well-being. Geoff provided information about the effects of trumatic brain injury, sleep deprivation, inflamation, chronic pain, toxic exposure, cancer trends in SOF, and the importance of seeking support for mental and physical health. Bianca Baldwin, a Silver Star spouse, presented a summary of her time as an advocate and spokesperson of injured Green Berets and their spouses. Dr. Erik Won talked about technologies that provide treatment protocols with the aim of restoring optimal neurological function.
RADM (R) Brian Losey spoke about the benefits of psychedelics in treating mental health issues in the special operations community. He serves on the advisory board of Veterans Exploring Treatment Solutions (VETS). The SFA Banquet was held on Thursday evening. Speakers included LTC (R) Mitch Utterback (retired SF officer and author) and LTC (R) Scott Mann. A presentation by Scott Man of Last Out: Elegy of a Green Beret followed the dinner.
Friday, May 26th
The last day of the conference included a morning session with closing remarks and then attendance at Carb Day at the Indy 500. Following the racetrack visit attendees went to the American Legion 500 Festival Memorial Service and picnic. The conference ended officially on Friday; however, many attendees chose to attend the Festival Day and Parade in downtown Indianapolis on Saturday and the Indy 500 Race on Sunday (free admission).
Next year’s Special Forces Association convention will be held in October 2024. This one will be different than past conventions as it will be held on a cruise ship. It was just recently announced in mid-May 2023 and it already has a couple of hundred registrations. The intent is to fully-book the cruise ship with current and former members of Special Forces. The expected trip will last five days, departing from Tampa, Florida with a couple of stops at Caribbean ports. There will be activities such as a visit to Ybor City, motorcycle ride, and golf tournament held in the Tampa area prior to and after the cruise. Should be an excellent time! Registration – https://sfali.org/cruise-pre-registration-page/
Photos: All photos of speakers (except Jeff Man, Mitch Utterback, Scott Mann, and John Amenzzani) by Brian Kanof of Chapter 9, Special Forces Association, El Paso.