One of the more awesome aspects of being affiliated with SOFREP is being sent to events like SOF Week and being told to “Have at it and report back to the readers.” 

This wasn’t exactly an easy show to get into. I was credentialed as media for the event last year and have held all sorts of security clearances in my career, and still, it took me 13 days to get my “all access” media credentials. Fortunately you don’t have to wait at all, just read on and take a vicarious journey with me to the Tampa Convention Center.

Trains, Busses and Ubers

It took a bus trip, two train rides, and a bunch of Uber trips, but I got there. For a while, I was afraid I was going to have to ride a donkey for the last leg of the trip.  But I got to Tampa, and now I’m back and ready to spill the beans about what I saw and learned. It was cool, damn cool…so stay tuned.

Before you read any further, please look at the first picture in this article. The one with the open door with the big sign above them that reads “SOF Week.” Check out the vertical sign to the immediate left of the wooden doors; note that the last item there reads, “Capability Accelerator Rally Point.” I read that and didn’t know WTF it meant, but I knew that was the first place this old soldier was headed.

I went to the RP, had my capabilities suitably accelerated by classified means, and was good to go for the rest of the show. Well…It’s not exactly a show, per se… So just what is SOF Week? Glad you asked. I’ll get to that shortly.

Akek. The world’s best backpack/rucksack, hands down. Image by the author.

I wasn’t kidding about the bus and train I took to get there. Too close to my home to fly, and the car was tied up that week. I could not take a suitcase with the tickets I got, so I packed everything I needed for one week into my trusty rucksack from our friends at Akek. Mine is the Alpha 3200, and  I’d be doing you a disservice if I didn’t tell you about it.

Technically, it’s a hunting backpack, but I wasn’t doing any hunting on this trip, so I’ll call it a ruck. And a hell of a ruck it is, only a little over five pounds empty with a real carbon fiber frame. Ultra-thick padded straps to help shoulder the load of chinos, polo shirts, a laptop, and lots of business cards. Oh, and Combos. Pizza Combos are my “on the road” junk food snack of choice.

Oh, what is SOF Week? For starters, it used to be called SOFIC, and it’s pretty much the same deal. SOF Week is a national convention for US special operations forces (although there were operators from all over the globe). The event is co-sponsored by US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) and the Global Special Operations Forces Foundation in Tampa. There were tons of professional development sessions given by top SOF leadership, smaller operator-driven discussions, and a few family-focused meetings. SOCOM is finally becoming family-friendly.

One of the main draws was the Exhibition Hall, two of them, one on top of the other, with several hundred vendors displaying their latest contributions to the special operations community. There was everything from full-sized drones to small ordinary-looking packs that allowed one to carry up to sixteen each 40mm grenades in what looked for all the world, just like one of those old Trapper Keepers that some of us used to carry to school.

This baby was on display from Boeing and is the first thing you notice upon entering the exhibit hall. Image by the author.

Immediately upon entering the upper exhibition hall, you see the latest offerings from Boeing. Hanging there, as if in mid-flight and right above a sign that read “absolutely no photography”  (just kidding), was the Integrator Extended Range-Insitu unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). You’ll note the bulbous SATCOM (satellite communications) nose module up front with a NASA scoop on the underside. These UAVs are pretty small, actually, measuring a little over 15 feet wingtip to wingtip with a maximum takeoff weight of 165 lbs.

We can’t give away all of its secrets, but the folks at Boeing tell us it can do around 19 and a half hours time on station. For you non-military types out there, that’s the time it can loiter around its objective checking things out and waiting for something interesting to happen. Kind of like what kids used to do at the mall. No, that’s not the official Department of Defense (DoD) definition.

The maximum publically reported operational ceiling is 20,000 feet. Its cruising speed is only about 55 knots, so it just flies around lazily, checking out the world below with all kinds of high-tech gadgetry like an electro-optical (EO) telescope that can capture full motion video (FMV). The dual MWIR (Mid-wave infrared) imager monitors both stationary and moving targets in both day and nighttime environments and allows the operator to positively identify fixed or kinetic targets, err, “subjects of interest.” Moving on.

A small portion of the Sig Sauer “Wall of Weaponry.” Image by the author.

Fantastic Firearms

What would a SOF convention be without firearms, and what kind of firearms display would you have without featuring Sig Sauer? Fortunately, I didn’t have to ponder that question long because our friends from Sig Sauer were there in full force. Pistols, rifles, automatic weapons on government contract… large and small, they brought it all.

The Sig MCX Rattler SBR (bottom). It just happens to be number one on my Christmas list this year, hint, hint. Photo by the author.

Way back in June of last year, I wrote a piece about how SOCOM picked the Sig Rattler as its Personal Defense Weapon (PDW) of choice. I noted how the Sig would be chambered in .300 blackout and standard 5.56X45mm ammo. The SL series suppressor increases the over-length of the weapon by 8.8 inches but ups the badass factor by orders of magnitude. Note to Santa, please don’t forget the suppressor for my Rattler.

PA arms manufacturer Geissele was there are well, forcing me to break out the macro lens. Photo by the author.

Of course, Sig was not the only small arms manufacturer present at SOF Week. As I walked around, looking for cool stuff to write about, I happened across the Geissele booth. These weapons jumped out at me and caught my eye because I could immediately see that they were rock solid and beautiful in their simplicity. The company is known for its upper receiver groups and trigger assemblies, but they also offer many complete weapons. There was brief talk of me perhaps doing a build utilizing their components. Stay tuned for that one.

Watch: SOCOM – ISOF Week 2016 Capabilities Demonstration in Tampa

Read Next: Watch: SOCOM – ISOF Week 2016 Capabilities Demonstration in Tampa

And with that, we come to the end of part one of our adventure. Keep an eye out for part II, coming soon.

** To check out an interesting contemporary history of US special operations forces, click here