Special Forces Association convention aims for broader appeal
Military conventions often run a familiar pattern - a pattern the Special Forces Association aims to buck at its annual meeting this week in Columbia, South Carolina.
Usually, graying veterans gather with their war buddies and tell increasingly exaggerated tales from their glory days, said Jack Tobin, a retired colonel and president of the Special Forces Association.
"But this year, it's a little different," he said.
The week-long event will have many of the familiar trappings of conventions' past - social hours, marksmanship matches, and tours of museums and historical sites.
But it also will include speakers aimed at teaching lessons on Special Forces history and related topics.
The changes, Tobin said, have been made to draw in and appeal to a younger audience of Green Berets - many of whom are still serving.
Brig. Gen. Darsie Rogers, commander of U.S Army Special Forces Command at Fort Bragg, will address the current and immediate future of Special Forces.
Retired Maj. Gen. Sidney Shachnow will discuss recently unclassified information about the famed Berlin Brigade - a secretive unit of Special Forces soldiers who served in Germany at the height of the Cold War.
Other speakers will address the future of the country's special operations forces, guerrilla warfare in the Revolutionary War and more.
"It's really an expansion of past conventions," Tobin said of the new focus.
Officials expect more than 1,000 current and former Green Berets to attend the events. The Special Forces Association also is paying for several families of deployed soldiers to attend and partake in the festivities.
Tobin said other efforts were underway to make the national convention more family friendly, including children's activities and shopping trips.
The changes are being made because of what had been an aging membership.
Officials saw other associations falter and close because they didn't involve younger members. The Special Forces Association now aims to protect its future.
"We made the decision that we were going to engage the young men," Tobin said. "We want them to realize we're there for them - that we can learn from each other.
"I'll be candid - they're smarter than we were," Tobin said. "But there can still be that exchange of knowledge. The ultimate goal (is that) the Special Forces Association will live on."