A Golden Age and New Leader for U.S. Special Operations

TAMPA, Fla. (Aug. 28, 2014) -- Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel attends a Change of Command ceremony for U.S. Special Operations Command at the Tampa Convention Center in Tampa, Fla. August 28, 2014. DoD photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Sean Hurt/Released

TAMPA, Fla. (Aug. 28, 2014) — Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel attends a Change of Command ceremony for U.S. Special Operations Command at the Tampa Convention Center in Tampa, Fla. August 28, 2014. DoD photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Sean Hurt/Released

The significance of the U.S. Special Operations Command, based at MacDill Air Force Base, can be measured by the fact that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel came to Tampa for the change of command ceremony.

“As a testament to the growing demand for special operators, Socom has grown by almost 8,000 people over the last three years,” Hagel told an invited audience of hundreds, most in military uniform. “And its growth will continue even as other parts of our military draw down.”

Navy Adm. William McRaven led Socom through the last three years of growth shaping the joint command into a global force.

“I believe that for the past several years, possibly without even knowing it, we have been and we are in the Golden Age of Special Operations,” McRaven told the packed ballroom at Tampa’s Convention Center. “A time when our unique talents as special operators are in greatest demand, a time when the nation recognizes the strategic value of our services, a time when all that we’ve trained for all that we’ve worked for all that our predecessors have planned for has come together.”

Hagel said McRaven’s most enduring legacy may be his effort to alleviate the strain of the relentless pace of deployments demanded of special forces.

Admiral William McRaven while serving as commander of the US Special Operations Command based at MacDill AFB, Tampa, FL. He has retired after 37 years.

Admiral William McRaven while serving as commander of the US Special Operations Command based at MacDill AFB, Tampa, FL. He has retired after 37 years.

“Bill established initiatives to address the physical and mental wellbeing of his force, offer support to family members and provide more predictability on deployments,” Hagel said. “He modified SOCOM’s definition of readiness to include families, families as a vital part of that equation. Something the entire Department of Defense can learn from.”

McRaven said Socom evolved after the 9-11 terrorism attacks and now has more than 67,000 forces ready in 92 countries. Their mission is to help stabilize areas of conflict, work with the State Department on everything from providing clean water to establishing rule of law and to take the fight to Al Qaida, the Taliban, ISIS and others.

While praising his special operators, McRaven added that they are no different than other service members.

“While our missions are unique – or special – we do not view ourselves as special people,” McRaven said. “We are no more courageous, no more heroic , no more patriotic, no smarter, no harder working than our brothers and sisters in the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps.”

McRaven is retiring and will take over as chancellor of the Texas University System. His successor is Gen. Joe Votel , an Army Ranger, who vowed that SOCOM will always, always be prepared.

Votel is a West Point graduate, the tenth commander at Socom and now responsible for ensuring the readiness of Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps Special Operations Forces around the globe.

You can listen to a story on the ceremony on WUSF 89.7 FM.

Joint Special Operations: A University of Their Own

U.S. Special Operations Command Deputy Commander, Army Lt. Gen. John Mulholland, served as keynote speaker at the symbolic groundbreaking for the new university campus. Credit Bobbie O'Brien / WUSF Public Media

U.S. Special Operations Command Deputy Commander, Army Lt. Gen. John Mulholland, served as keynote speaker at the symbolic groundbreaking for the new university campus.
Credit Bobbie O’Brien / WUSF Public Media

The Tampa Bay area will soon become home to a new university. It is not another state university like Florida Polytechnic. Instead, the university has a highly-specialized curriculum with a global reach.

A hub campus for the Joint Special Operations University (JSOU) is under construction near the U.S. Special Operations Command on MacDill Air Force Base.

There was a symbolic groundbreaking Thursday, but the JSOU has been holding classes for the past three years in a former bank building just outside the Tampa air base. The school is working on accreditation, but is not yet a degree-granting university.

Dr. Brian Maher, president of the Joint Special Operations University, said the curriculum is at the core of the Department of Defense’s plan to use more teams of special operators.

 Dr. Brian Maher, president of the Joint Special Operations University, says their new facility withstood budget cuts because Dept. of Defense plans to use more special ops forces in the future. Credit Bobbie O'Brien / WUSF Public Media


Dr. Brian Maher, president of the Joint Special Operations University, says their new facility withstood budget cuts because Dept. of Defense plans to use more special ops forces in the future.
Credit Bobbie O’Brien / WUSF Public Media

“The secretary of defense just the other day said, ‘Hey as we’re cutting back some of the forces, we’re going to see the special operator on the battlefield,’” Maher said. “And they’re going to be in small teams and they’re going to be needed to have the skills and that intellectual capacity to talk back to chiefs of staff of services and ministries of defense and be able to help formulate and articulate what the United States is trying to do.”

The JSOC was created to train special operations forces in 2000, a year before the 9-11 terrorist attacks. But what started as training courses and workshops has developed into an educational institution.

Now, it serves special forces and conventional forces as well as interagency and international partners.

“We want to take the niche, and it will be primarily for the non-commissioned officers,” Maher said. “Help them get a higher level education, but in the things that are going to be meaningful for the rest of their career – critical thinking skills, solving complex problems.”

(From left to right) Command Sgt. Maj. David Betz, JSOU senior enlisted advisor; Dr. Brian Maher, JSOU president; Bob Buckhorn, mayor of Tampa; retired Army Gen. Doug Brown, former USSOCOM commander; Army Lt. Gen. John Mulholland, USSOCOM deputy commander; Retired Vice Adm. Joe Maguire, former commander of Naval Special Warfare Command; Air Force Col. Andre Briere, 6th Air Mobility Wing vice commander; and Army Lt. Col. Thomas Nelson, Army Corps of Engineers, Mobile District deputy commander break ground for the Joint Special Operations University scheduled to be completed in the Fall of 2015.

(From left to right) Command Sgt. Maj. David Betz, JSOU senior enlisted advisor; Dr. Brian Maher, JSOU president; Bob Buckhorn, mayor of Tampa; retired Army Gen. Doug Brown, former USSOCOM commander; Army Lt. Gen. John Mulholland, USSOCOM deputy commander; Retired Vice Adm. Joe Maguire, former
commander of Naval Special Warfare Command; Air Force Col. Andre Briere, 6th
Air Mobility Wing vice commander; and Army Lt. Col. Thomas Nelson, Army Corps of Engineers, Mobile District deputy commander break ground for the Joint Special Operations University scheduled to be completed in the Fall of 2015.

Maher said a majority of the special operators’ work is building security cooperation and partnerships with other government agencies and nations and that only 5 to 10 percent of special forces’ work is “direct action.”

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Lt. Gen. John Mulholland, deputy commander of U.S. Special Operations Command at MacDill AFB.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Lt. Gen. John Mulholland, deputy commander of U.S. Special Operations Command at MacDill AFB.

“It’s something that we call phase zero or before the bang,” Maher said. “We don’t ever want to get to where there’s an armed conflict.”

Instead, the aim is to provide training and work with partner nations to solve local problems before they grow into regional conflicts.

The university facility is being built as an extension of the U.S. Special Operations Command where Army Lt. Gen. John Mulholland is deputy commander.

“Nowhere in the world, literally, will you find such an academic institution dedicated to the professional study and practice of special operations,” Mulholland said at the symbolic groundbreaking. “This building will support JSOU evolving into a fully-accredited, nationally-recognized degree granting university. Providing a variety of academic programs and electives specifically designed for special operators.”

The new 90,000 square-foot JSOU facility is scheduled to be completed in 2015 and become home to 130 faculty and staff.

You can listen to the radio version of this story which aired on WUSF 89.7 FM.

Women in Combat Roles to Become a Reality Jan. 1, 2016

A cadet at the graduation ceremony for U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., listens to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates' remarks, May 23, 2009. Of the 970 cadets, 144 are women. Photo courtesy of Army.mil.

A cadet at the graduation ceremony for U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., listens to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates’ remarks, May 23, 2009. Of the 970 cadets, 144 are women. Photo courtesy of Army.mil.

It’s official.The Department of Defense plans to integrate women into combat positions they previously could not hold because of the 1994 Direct Ground Combat Definition and Assignment.

But not all positions are open as of yet. For example, Admiral William McRaven, commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command based at Tampa’s MacDill Air Force Base, submitted a three part proposal to determine if women can serve in the small, elite teams like the SEAL Teams, the Ranger Regiment and Special Forces Groups among others.

His plan for USSOCOM: Part one, an analysis with emphasis on “gender-neutral training standards” of entry courses and an evaluation of facilities.  Part two: research into the social and psychological impacts of integrating women into the teams. And part three: commission an independent study by RAND Corporation looking at those same topics.

Reports from all three parts are due July 2014. Then by April 2015, USSOCOM will submit to Congress a list of positions and “occupational specialties” open to women. And, at that time some units and specialties still might request an exemption from including women.

Full implementation by the services should occur by Jan. 1, 2016. The following are links to the individual plans:

On Jan. 24, 2013, former Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and Gen. Dempsey initiated the call to lift the ban on women in combat.

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