Navy Admiral Takes Helm of U.S. Special Ops Command
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
TAMPA, Fla., Jul. 9, 2007 Adm. Eric T. Olson became the first Navy SEAL to command U.S. Special Operations Command during a ceremony here today. (Video)
Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and U.S. Army Gen. Doug Brown, applaud for U.S. Navy Adm. Eric T. Olson, commander of U.S. Special Operations Command from, during a change of command ceremony at the Tampa Convention Center in Tampa, Fla., July 9, 2007. Brown, who has commanded USSOCOM since September 2003, is retiring from active duty after 40 years of service to the nation. Adm. Olson has been the deputy commander of USSOCOM since September 2003. Defense Dept. photo by Cherie A. Thurlby
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates presided as Olson assumed command from Army Gen. Bryan Brown. Brown had led the command since September 2003. Two of the more conspicuous accomplishments during that time were assuming new missions in the war on terror and assimilating Marine forces into the command.
Gates said the command works seamlessly among the services, but that this was not always the case. The command grew phoenix-like from the ashes of a failed attempt in 1980 to rescue American hostages being held in Iran, he said. Eight airmen and Marines were killed in the ill-fated mission, and the lessons learned from it led directly to the establishment of Special Operations Command in 1987.
“Joint capabilities would eventually eclipse parochial service interests,” Gates said. “And this year we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the establishment of a command that is at the forefront of the fight to preserve our freedom and our way of life.”
Gates thanked the special operators for their work. “Your task is anything but easy,” he said. “You have volunteered multiple times to take the most difficult assignments. You do so with courage, determination and skill that leaves the rest of us in awe. The success of special operations begins with the individual warrior - each one of you - and we are eternally grateful for your willingness to serve our nation.”
Thousands of special operations veterans, current special operators, and local civic and business leaders attended the ceremony at the Tampa Convention Center.
Also attending was a melange of special operators from around the world. Norway, Great Britain, the Philippines, Japan, Jordan, Australia, Colombia were just a few countries that sent representative to the ceremony.
The worldwide nature of the audience showed that people of the world recognize the threat al Qaeda and like groups pose. Gates said al Qaeda is a nontraditional foe that requires a special type of warrior to fight it.
Though hard military power has its place, longer-term needs can best be served by soft power -- building capabilities in allied forces, building infrastructure, or helping countries develop a legal system based on laws, for example. Brown said his troops understand the need for both hard and soft power and have the intellect to understand when to use both.
Gates recognized Brown for his leadership of the command. “He came to this post four years ago determined to improve the way special operators fight,” Gates said. “He has done just that.”
Brown also improved the way the command works, the secretary said. He reorganized the command’s Center for Special Operations. The changes allowed different special ops specialties to build on each other rather than compete. He praised the intelligence community for working side by side with special operators, “fusing their expertise and planning to greatly improve results.”
Brown thanked the coalition allies and interagency partners for their help. “This is an international coalition at its best, supporting each other,” he said.
Gates also thanked Brown for the way he has worked with other nations in the fight against terror. The general has emphasized the need for Americans to develop language proficiency and cultural understanding to build trust and bonds with foreign militaries. “And his emphasis on indirect operations aimed to prevent minor problems from growing into much bigger crises,” Gates said.
Gates called Olson “a true warrior” and a legend in the special operations community. In 1993, Olson -- then a Navy commander -- fought street by street through Mogadishu, Somalia, leading a ground convoy to fellow special operators surrounded by thousands of enemy.
Olson is the first Navy SEAL to wear three stars, and now four stars. “There is no mistaking his combination of courage, experience and leadership,” Gates said.
The secretary encouraged Olson to “continue your custom of giving honest opinions and recommendations -- with the bark off and straight from the shoulder,” he said.
For his part, Olson said he will build on the base that Brown has left him. Olson, who served as the command’s deputy commander, said he is in awe of special operations forces’ skill, intellect and courage.
“I intend to reinforce our enduring priorities: to deter, disrupt and defeat terrorist threats; develop and support our people and take care of their families; and modernize our force.”
The admiral said he will work with combatant commanders to meet their needs and will work with service chiefs “in order to ensure that our respective roles and missions are well-defined.”
Finally, the admiral vowed to ensure that U.S. Special Operations Forces remain the best-trained, best-equipped, best-led, boldest, bravest, most aware, innovative, responsive and spirited force in the world.”