Retired U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Gary Harrell, the Special Forces ground commander in the battle depicted in the film Black Hawk Down, is scheduled to deliver the keynote address at  TVPPA’s 2019 Utility Safety & Security Conference.

The conference is set for Sept. 25-27 at Knoxville’s Crowne Plaza Hotel. Agenda details and event/hotel registration are available online at

A much-decorated veteran of 35 years’ service, Harrell helped supervise Operations Desert Shield, Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom. An East Tennessee State University graduate, he also held a command role in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and oversaw NATO operations in Afghanistan.

“It’s an honor to welcome General Harrell to our conference,” said TVPPA Meetings & Conferences Coordinator Courtney Philpott. “So many of us know Black Hawk Down as a movie, but he was there; it’ll be fascinating to hear him separate fact from fiction.”

While laden with topics put forward by the conference planning committee and survey respondents, the conference agenda is also big on old-school communication. The agenda includes a pre-conference Open Forum and a meet-and-greet for newcomers.

“To me, one of the biggest takeaways at any conference is networking – the interaction you get to have with your industry peers,” said Billy Porter, the longtime safety coordinator at Gibson EMC, Trenton, Tenn., and chairman of this year’s S&S Conference.

“I think [open forums] are extremely effective,” Porter said, “and [newcomers] will be in a room with people who have decades of experience.”