SFACON 2023 — Indy: From My Perspective

By Dennis DeRosia
Photos courtesy Dennis DeRosia

Attendance may have been down, but not the quality! The variety of topics and speakers was outstanding. Unlike previous SFACON meeting formats with multiple, simultaneous sessions, this was a single track of presentations. Thus, having attended each of the sessions, I was blessed to have walked away from each of them with several pearls of knowledge. It is not my intent to summarize all the sessions; I just want to share several that caught my personal attention for one reason or another.

Beginning with BG Lawrence Ferguson, Deputy Commander, 1st SF Command, he reassured us that the Regiment remains strong, focusing on “selection and culture”, in the face of continued recruiting challenges. Currently, a key component to filling the SF ranks is the 18 X-Ray program, which I was not familiar with. This is where someone can enlist off the street and declare that they want to enter SF. They must commit to a six-year enlistment, and in turn, the Army enters them into a training program to prepare them for the Q Course. While only 11% will make it all the way through and be assigned to a team, this group now accounts for approximately 50% of the Regiment’s ranks. Interestingly, in service, applications to go the SF route are down.

While there were the usual presentations on past operational missions, a significant portion of the topics were more related to the Warrior Ethos and mindset during both active and post-service years. One such session was Dr. Alice Atalanta who provided numerous examples of the “Warrior/Statesman” throughout history. Throughout history, she pointed out how the great commanders were well versed in ancient philosophy. One philosopher reminds us that “wisdom and experience peak with age.” I sure hope that’s true because I don’t have many more years left to get there. Her closing was, “care for your bodies, but pay more attention to your mind and spirit.”

On the very serious/emotional side, there were two things that struck me deeply at the conference. First were the photo tribute wall posters of our fallen brethren who had paid the ultimate sacrifice. In the center of these was the following statement: “When you go home, tell them of us and say, for their tomorrow, we gave our today.” Even now, I can barely type this without my eyes welling up.

Wall of Honor — When you go home, tell them of us and say, for their tomorrow, we gave our today. De Oppresso Liber
Wall of Honor showing photos and information about the KIAs.
Wall of Honor showing photos and biographical information.

Second was the presentation by Bianca Baldwin, the “Silver Star” surviving spouse of Major Darren Baldwin, who suffered traumatic brain injuries from two separate IED incidents and slowly deteriorated over a 15-year period before his death. We are all familiar with “Gold Star” families who have lost loved ones KIA, but what about those who suffer catastrophic injuries and succumb to them at a later date? Mrs. Baldwin was her husband’s constant caregiver for that entire time and now consults with the Green Beret Foundation as an expert on the topic of the emotional and physical needs of long-term caregivers. I would encourage all of you to learn more about “Silver Star” families and look into how you can be of support.

Since my own SF specialty was 91b/18D Medic, there were two medically related topics that I found of particular interest. Dr. Erik Won, MD, Chief Medical Officer at Wave Neuroscience in San Diego, enlightened us on innovative technologies such as Magnetic e-Resonance Therapy (MeRT). This is a form of personalized precision-guided medicine currently in clinical trials with SF Special Operations Command, the VA, and other uniformed services medical facilities to treat brain injuries.

The other medical topic was by MSG Geoffrey Dardia on toxic exposures related to military service in general. As it turns out, Agent Orange was just the tip of the iceberg, and the current list of things to be concerned with is indeed extensive.