International commandos to show off capabilities in Tampa again in May

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn mans a .50 cal machine gun during the 2014    International Special Operations Forces demonstration in Tampa. [Luis Santana | Times]
Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn mans a .50 cal machine gun during the 2014 International Special Operations Forces demonstration in Tampa. [Luis Santana | Times]
Published March 29, 2018

Be afraid Mayor Buckhorn.

Be very afraid.

The bad guys might be after you again.

You know the ones. They show up every other year in Tampa and capture you, only to see you rescued by a cadre of international commandos swooping in on helicopters, inflatable boats and ground vehicles.

Then you come roaring back in triumph, blasting away on a 50-caliber machine gun.

The bad guys, of course, are actors. Not the Alex Jones tin-foil crisis kind that the InfoWars bloviator waxes on about, but folks role-playing an adversary that the international commandos can defeat in a demonstration of their tactics, techniques and procedures.

It's all part of the International Special Operations Forces meeting, which brings commando leaders from around the world to Tampa. It takes place pretty much every other year in conjunction with the annual Special Operations Forces Industry Conference, scheduled this year for May 21-24 at the Tampa Convention Center.

(Speaking of Jones, when I wrote about this event several years ago, it became part of the InfoWars fodder "proving" that an Army Special Operations Command training exercise called Jade Helm 15 was actually a plot to take over the country and round people up in FEMA camps through shuttered WalMarts. If that makes any sense to you, please loosen your tinfoil hat and turn off InfoWars).

This year, the capabilities demonstration, will take place at 1:30 p.m., Wednesday, May 23, according to Army Lt. Col Roderick "Rod" Cunningham, a SOCom spokesman.

Because SOCom, headquartered at MacDill Air Force Base, is still working on the details, Cunningham said he couldn't provide any information beyond when the event will take place.

We don't know, for instance, what types of aircraft, vessels or vehicles will take part.

(One year, I was lucky enough to ride in a Chinook helicopter flown by a crew from the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment. Though the pilot looked to be about 15, I knew I was in good hands and it amazing to see how they maneuvered the twin-rotored helo up to and past the Convention Center).

We also still don't know for sure if Buckhorn will participate.

During last year's SOFIC convention, he raised hackles, including some of my own, for comments he made about aiming the blank-firing weapon at journalists.

"I've never seen grown men cry like little girls, for when that gun goes off those media folks just hit the deck like no one's business," Buckhorn said in his opening remarks to thunderous applause from the crowd. "It's great payback. I love it."

I've known Buckhorn for years, and while it was just Swagger (the honorary call sign he was given by the 6th Air Mobility Wing at MacDill) being Swagger, it rankled me and journalists I know who have actually been wounded covering war. Even though at the time of the gun pointing, it all seemed to be in good fun.

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When I asked for a comment from America's most appeasing official who every year surrenders the city to faux brigands as part of the silly Gasparilla prelude about whether he will be "rescued" again this year, I got a very Swagger-like humorous response.

"I can't give away national security secrets like that but rest assured that the demonstration will be as an awe inspiring example of the capabilities of our Special Operations Command," he said via email. "For those hoping my captors will take my to a far off location you are out of luck. I promise I will return to fight another day"


The Pentagon last week announced no new deaths in ongoing operations.

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; 53 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 or (813) 225-3112. Follow @haltman