A lot of folks from Tampa have been or will be headed north this week, bound for a major conference in Washington on the future of Special Operations Forces. As the U.S. cuts defense spending and the military changes its focus, it?s a topic of great interest. Simply put, the things that commandos do best – swift and lethal actions, as well as small teams working in remote locations training others to defend themselves – are going to be in greater demand than ever. Though others call the shots on who goes where, U.S. Special Operations Command, headquartered at MacDill Air Force Base, sets on the tone on special operations doctrine.
The mission of the command and the commandos will be the subject of ?Positioning Special Operations Forces for Global Challenges.? The two-day conference is headlined by Socom head Adm. William McRaven and features some of special operations leading lights. The 40th annual Fletcher Conference is being put on by the Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis and the International Security Studies Program of the Fletcher School of Tufts University in cooperation with Socom. It will bring together U.S. and allied military and political leaders, academics and nongovernmental experts ?for a two-day exchange on the growing importance of special operations forces ? for 21st century security,? according to the conference web site. Speakers and attendees will examine how Socom can work with geographic combatant commands like U.S. Central Command, as well as allies, partners and the vast array of alphabet soup organizations like the FBI, CIA and others to combat transnational threats and ?foster a more robust? special operations network to ?meet global challenges.? The conference will open with remarks by Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter and McRaven. A series of panel discussions will follow, on topics ranging from the requirements for Special Operations Forces in the 21st century to implementing a global special operations network and the role of the interagency and partner nations in the global SOF network. Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict Michael Sheehan will open the session the second day and chairman of the House Armed Services Committee Rep. Howard P. ?Buck? McKeon will provide closing remarks. The conference will be held at June 5 and 6 at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in downtown Washington, D.C. Having just returned from Afghanistan, I will have to catch this on the web. Speaking of Afghanistan, my first foray to that far-off country was eye-opening, fascinating and challenging. I talked to dozens of troops, Afghans and others and took more than 1,000 stills and dozens of videos. So far, I have written several stories, with more to come. The stories have ranged from the dangers of improvised explosive devices there to how a staff sergeant from St. Petersburg helps get troops and equipment from Point A to Point B via a complex aerial ballet. I regret that the staff sergeant wasn?t in charge of making sure my luggage made it from Tampa to Kabul. Thanks to a now-comical series of gaffes and flubs, two bags packed full of notebooks, pens, batteries, clothes, 20 pounds of cigars for the troops courtesy of Support The Troops and borrowed body armor among other items never reached me. The bags eventually wound up in Kabul days after I embedded but, because the military cannot go on the civilian side of the airport, they were stuck there. A handoff scheduled to take place the day I departed never took place. On Saturday, shortly after noon, there was a knock at my door. Fed Ex was delivering both my bags. Everything I packed was in them. Fortunately, while in Afghanistan, I had my most essential items – a computer and a camera – in my carry on. The military lent me the required body armor, as well as some clothing and toiletries and I purchased things like a 16-gig memory card, notebooks, pens and underwear. But because of the tempo of my embed, I was never able to find another pair of pants. Thankfully, my wife packed a pair of Columbia Sportswear Cool Creek Stretch Cargo Pants in my carry on luggage. For 11 days, with one washing, the pants held up in the heat and dust of Kandahar among other places. While I don?t recommend going that many days with one pair of pants, if you do, those are the pants to wear. It?s been a few weeks since I wrote my last column, so time to catch up on all those service members who have made the ultimate sacrifice. Eight troops died in Afghanistan since my last column. Spc. Christopher R. Drake, 20, of Tickfaw, La., died May 26, in Bagram, Afghanistan, of injuries sustained when his vehicle was attacked by a rocket-propelled grenade. He was assigned to the 1084th Transportation Company, 165th Combat Support Sustainment Battalion, 139th Regional Support Group, Reserve, La. Sgt. Eugene M. Aguon, 23, of Mangilao, Guam, and Spc. Dwayne W. Flores, 22, of Sinajana, Guam, died May 16, in Kabul, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when enemy forces attacked their unit with a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device. They were assigned to the 1st Battalion, 294th Infantry Regiment, 29th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, Fort Juan Muna, Guam. Sgt. 1st Class Jeffrey C. Baker, 29, of Hesperia, Calif., Spc. Mitchell K. Daehling, 24, of Dalton, Mass., Spc. William J. Gilbert, 24, of Hacienda Heights, Calif., and Pfc. Cody J. Towse, 21, of Elk Ridge, Utah, died May 14, in Sanjaray, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when enemy forces attacked their unit with an improvised explosive device. Baker was assigned to 766th Ordnance Company, 63rd Ordnance Battalion, 52nd Ordnance Group, Fort Stewart, Ga. Daehling, Gilbert, and Towse were assigned to 3rd Battalion, 41st Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, Fort Bliss, Texas. Sgt. 1st Class Trenton L. Rhea, 33, of Oakley, Kan., died May 15, in Kandahar, Afghanistan, after drowning while attempting to cross a body of water during combat operations. He was assigned to the 603rd Military Police Company, 530th Military Police Battalion, 300th Military Police Brigade, 200th Military Police Command, Belton, Mo. There have now been 2,212 U.S. troop deaths in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, the nation?s longest war.