TAMPA — The streets are going to be crawling with commandos.
Two special operations conferences are being held simultaneously at the Tampa Convention Center Tuesday through Thursday, reinforcing Tampa Bay's emerging identity as the place where special operations units come to work and mingle.
The Special Operations Forces Industry Conference is joining with the International Special Forces Conference, which is hosted by U.S. Special Operations Command, whose headquarters is at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa.
SOCom, whose conference theme is strengthening the global special operations forces network, directs the nation's commandos, from the elite Navy SEALs to the secret Delta Force.
The joint conferences will attract up to 300 companies that will be hawking their military wares in displays on the convention center's main floor. Also participating will be special operations forces representatives from 84 countries, government officials, academics and SOCom brass.
Adm. William McRaven, the SOCom chief who helped organize the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, is expected to address the conventions during the week, SOCom officials say.
Participants in the coming conferences said Tampa is becoming the place to be for not just special operations forces, but also the industry and academic people at the periphery of the SOCom world, from retired generals to companies looking for military customers.
"I think it's an enormous boon to Tampa," said Steve Hasselbach, a Tampa-based senior solutions architect for Peak 10, a North Carolina firm that operates data centers around the United States, including Tampa. The firm will attend the conferences.
And companies, he said, want a presence in Tampa for access to SOCom and officials of U.S. Central Command, which is also based at MacDill. In turn, MacDill officials want direct communication with private defense contractors.
"They want direct access to those people so they can talk about problems or solutions they can offer," Hasselbach said. "We can sit down and talk to customers, have lunch with them and forge personal relationships."
The conferences really kicked off on Sunday with the Operator Challenge, an event at a Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office facility in Lithia for a shooting and physical fitness competition by former U.S. and foreign special operations forces personnel, and others in that community.
On Wednesday at 1:30 p.m., U.S. and international special operations forces will participate in a mock rescue demonstration behind the convention center that will utilize Blackhawk helicopters, boats, Army rangers, a SEAL team and even snipers on the roof of Tampa General Hospital. The demonstration is open to the public with good viewing on the Harbour Island and Davis Islands bridges.
A practice session, also open to the public, will be held between 1 and 3 p.m. Tuesday.
"It's a good opportunity for us to show the local population what their services can do and how we can do it with international partners," said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Matt Allen, a SOCom spokesman.
William R. Levesque can be reached at [email protected]