In the beginning, there was darkness about Special Operations Forces and SOFREP.com was void and without form. I joined in the pre-launch days, a couple of months before that when Brandon Webb and Jack Murphy asked readers of their stuff on “Kit-Up” to send their email addresses if they wanted to be a part of the readership of a site devoted to clearing up the misinformation in the media about SOFs. I thought that was a great idea for a website and threw my hat into the ring that Webb and Murphy were setting up.

That was December of 2011, as I recall. Since that time, SOFREP.com has grown into a tight, focused little media empire that includes books, radio and video. The effect, I think, has been noticeable in the media. If the mainstream press does not check with SOFREP.com first to get their facts straight, they will certainly want to after they get them wrong.

In terms of the impact that SOFREP.com has had on the media landscape, I think it’s fair to say that Webb and Murphy’s account of the Benghazi attack prevented the Obama administration from just moving on without any accountability for the lives that were lost in those attacks. SOFREP contributing Editor Glen Doherty was among the dead in those attacks, and Webb and Murphy simply weren’t going to let it go at a funeral and a folded flag handed to his loved ones. Those flags were handed out accompanied by bald-faced lies, and SOFREP exerted great effort to expose those lies.

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One of the other things that SOFREP created, definitely without the explicit intention to do so, was a community made up of its members. In Destin, Florida, I recently attended an informal meeting of some of the original “Mafia,” as Brandon calls them. I knew all of them from their online personas on the site, and had interacted with them on the threads and Team Room chat over the last two years, but had never met any of them in person.

I really had no idea what they would be like in person. What I found was that my perception of them on the site wasn’t really different from the reality they presented in person. I think that may be unique on the web, which I always told myself was not the real world but a nether world of avatars and imagined selves projected into a matrix of bits and pixels. We think we are presenting our best selves online, even as we are aware it’s not our real selves.

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Anyway, it got me thinking about what attracts people to SOFREP in the first place. At dinner and over drinks we didn’t drill down on new weapons systems, gear or the geo-political ramifications of the WOT. Instead we talked about food, drinking and laughed and joked mostly. There were a few sidebars about guns and gear. One of the members brought a sweet self-built AR that we shot at an indoor range on Friday afternoon. I couldn’t shoot my tricked Saiga AK because steel core 7.62 ammo would have punched through the stop blocks (nuff said about .223 versus 7.62).

There were some war stories, heart rending tales of loss and death received in empathetic silence and quiet nods. Oddly enough, even though most of us were meeting for the first time, the conversation and company was comfortable. In the room were Veterans of the Army and Navy. The only “Operator” was a former LRRP from the Vietnam era before the term “operator” was even coined. So what brought us all together to a giant, three-story house on a beach in Destin for the weekend?

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My own opinion is entirely subjective here, but I think it has something to do with this; People who join the military make the decision to serve the Republic of the United States and give their lives in her defense, if need be. After they are discharged or retired, they find that a piece of themselves stays with the military. They never really get it back. They go into civilian life, marry, buy a house, earn a living, but that piece of them still goes out on patrol with that squad of Marines in Fallujah or with that platoon of tanks setting off across the Kuwaiti desert, or with that Destroyer pushing away from the pier on a West Pac, or takes off with those F-16s on a strike on some insurgent stronghold.

Sometimes those pieces of ourselves that stay with the military becomes a website like SOFREP.com. In each other’s company, we recognize that missing piece of ourselves that we gave to our country, unselfishly and proudly. And if it could somehow be offered back to us by our country we would be insulted. In many ways, the best piece of ourselves goes outside the wire, still, with those men and women currently serving America. We don’t want it back, we just want that piece used in a good cause and to good effect.

I think that empathy and the mystical connection to those out there serving our country right now is why there is a community of members at SOFREP who want to meet up. Many are civilians, some were at this meet-up. I think that, for them, the draw to SOFREP comes from a desire to share the values, even if they didn’t share the experiences of military service.

If you get the chance or invitation to attend one of these gatherings, whether you are mil, ex-mil, or civilian, I encourage you to go. It will greatly enrich your SOFREP experience and make you think about what community really means. I know it did that for me.