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Howard Altman: Demand prompts commando trade show to charge charities for space

By Howard Altman | Military Affairs and General Assignment Reporter
Published: February 28, 2018 Updated: March 2, 2018 at 09:32 AM
A Blackhawk helicopter deploys commandos on a raft during a simulated hostage rescue demonstration during the 2014 Special Operations Forces Industry Conference in downtown Tampa. [Luis Santana | Times (2014)]

For years, military-themed charities have been given free space at the annual Special Operations Forces Industry Conference that draws thousands of commandos and defense industry officials to Tampa every May.

This year, that’s changing.

The National Defense Industry Association, which puts on the annual conference in conjunction with U.S. Special Operations Command, is now charging charities $1,000 for a booth.

Limited space at the Tampa Convention Center is the reason, according to the association.

On odd-numbered years, the conference includes the International Special Operations Forces Conference in which dozens of partner nations participate.

"This increased demand for space limits the ability for all companies wishing to do business with U.S. Special Operations Command, including charities," said association spokeswoman Evamarie Socha. "While the primary focus of SOFIC is to transform the Special Operations Forces community’s capabilities and equipment for future threats, the National Defense Industrial Association fully understands the missions of SOF-related charities and how important they are to SOCom and the families they support."

Socha said the association is offering charities options to participate at SOFIC, which runs from May 21 to May 24.

The booth space, complimentary registration, furnishings and utilities are offered at no charge to charities willing to share space with other organizations. The $1,000 charge per booth is for charities that have asked for their own booth.

The Black Dagger Military Hunt Club, which arranges adaptive shooting sessions for wounded, ill and injured troops and veterans, is one organization that has agreed to share a booth.

The club is teaming up with two organizations that have similar missions: the Task Force Dagger Foundation, providing help to wounded, ill, or injured Special Operations Command members and their families, and Special Ops Xcursions, offering active duty special operations Forces members a chance to partner with guides and volunteers for outdoor activities.

"These groups align with what we like to do," said hunt club founder Dave Winters. "Hunt, fish and shoot."

Black Dagger Military Hunt Club has had a booth at the conference for the past six years and has shared its space with Special Ops Xcursions for the past two. Winters said the conference is a great way to bring awareness to organizations like his.

"It’s absolutely huge," he said. "How can a small non-profit go into Glock and meet their marketing people? They get to see us and what we can do. Sometimes, people don’t realize that we go hunting with paralyzed veterans, with blind veterans. Calling blind into Glock on the phone is different than knowing them from SOFIC."

Last year, 18 organizations had booths in what is known as "charity row," Socha said. This year, about two dozen groups expressed interest, she said, adding that some groups opted not to come because of the new fee.


Speaking of SOFIC, SOCom officials haven’t yet confirmed whether they will stage the biannual capabilities demonstration, in which teams of international commandos "rescue" Tampa’s mayor from the clutches of "evil doers."

But Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who routinely surrenders to faux brigands and other assorted baddies, is ready to do so once again.

"We are honored to host the SOFIC event in Tampa and showcase the amazing capabilities of the Special Operations Forces," Buckhorn said in an email to the Tampa Bay Times. "The residents of Tampa love to see these silent professionals in action and I am happy to play any part they choose, in whatever capacity they see fit."


The Pentagon released no new fatalities in ongoing operations last week.

There have been 2,347 U.S. troop deaths in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan; 49 U.S. troop deaths and one civilian Department of Defense employee death in support of the follow-up, Operation Freedom’s Sentinel in Afghanistan; 45 troop deaths and two civilian deaths in support of Operation Inherent Resolve; one troop death in support of Operation Odyssey Lightning, the fight against Islamic State in Libya; one death classified as other contingency operations in the global war on terrorism; and four deaths in ongoing operations in Africa where, if they have a title, officials will not divulge it.

Contact Howard Altman at [email protected] or (813) 225-3112. Follow @haltman