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U.S. Special Operations Command Change of Command

As Delivered by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Tampa, Florida, Thursday, August 28, 2014

Thank you. Good afternoon.

Ladies and gentlemen, we first want to tell you how grateful we are that you are here. We are all here first to thank Bill and Georgeann McRaven for their exceptional leadership and their commitment to this country, to the people they lead, and the values that they care about. Their exceptional leadership for US Special Operations Command is a tribute to all of you who serve this country, and a special tribute to them. We're here also to welcome Michele and Joe Votel and their family.

A full account of Admiral McRaven’s military career has yet to be written.  When it is, however, it will have to be heavily redacted.  But his legacy in the special operations community is already pretty secure.  He is a warrior-leader that generations of special operators from across the branches of all of our services will strive to emulate in every way.  

Bill McRaven’s career has been deeply intertwined with the history of special operations in this country in every way.  He helped establish and was in the first graduating class of the Special Operations/Low Intensity Conflict curriculum at the Naval Post Graduate School.  He literally wrote the book on Special Operations – and I’m told that his graduate school thesis, which I've not read, at one point outranked even Clausewitz on Amazon’s list of Military Strategy bestsellers. As the commander for Special Operations in Europe, he was the driving force behind the creation of the NATO Special Operations Forces Coordination Centre.  And under his leadership, the Joint [Special] Operations Command carried out perhaps the most important mission in their history – hunting down and killing Osama bin Laden.

As SOCOM Commander, Admiral McRaven has led a community transitioning from its essential role in the post-[9]/11 wars to confronting the next generation of challenges – dynamic, dispersed, and networked, and very dangerous.

Special operators have long been the vanguard of our military’s global engagement, representing the kind of far-reaching work that our military will be called upon to do more and more in the future.  Under Admiral McRaven's command, SOCOM personnel have deployed to over 150 countries.

What special operators do every day not only helps make America safer, the world better, it also directly contradicts the uninformed and false narrative that somehow the United States is pulling back from the world.  In fact, SOCOM and the entire U.S. military are more engaged internationally than ever before – in more places and with a wider variety of missions.

For example, under Admiral McRaven’s leadership, our special operations Forces swiftly provided life-saving relief after Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines.  They helped Peruvian forces successfully target two senior members of the Shining Path rebel group.  They’re working with African partners now to help counter the terrorist activities of Boko Haram.  In Iraq, special operators on the ground are helping strengthen Iraqi security forces in their fight against ISIL.  And in Eastern Europe, they are reinforcing NATO allies in light of Russian aggression in Ukraine.

For the past three years, Admiral McRaven has organized his forces to be more agile, more flexible, and more responsive.  He has better integrated SOCOM with the geographic Combatant Commands, some as you know are here today, and issued the first-ever Global Campaign Plan for Special Operations.  He has deepened our relationships abroad, in a very positive way, working more closely with allies and partners to better anticipate and counter threats.  As a testament to the growing demand for special operators, SOCOM has grown by almost 8,000 people over the past three years – and its growth will continue even as other parts of our military draw down.

The relentless pace of deployments has put a heavy burden on this community, on all of our military communities, and the McRavens, both Georgeann and Bill, have worked tirelessly to help alleviate much of this strain.  Bill established initiatives to address the physical and mental well-being of his force, offer support to family members, and provide more predictability on deployments.  He modified SOCOM’s definition of readiness to include families as a vital part of that equation, something the entire Department of Defense can learn from.  Georgeann, with over three decades as a military spouse, you have been consistent in your advocacy for SOF families and you have personally supported many of these important initiatives.  The McRavens live by the SOF community’s saying, that our people are most important, our people are more important than our hardware.

The University of Texas recently announced that Bill will become their next Chancellor.  As a Nebraskan, I'm sorry. Actually, I told the Admiral I'm happy we have now left the Big 12 with Texas, because I know when McRaven shows up, things will change everywhere, as they always do.  UT’s selection of Bill, however, speaks to his ability, clear ability, respected ability, to lead and inspire those around him.  That's been the story of his life, his career.

As we bid farewell to Admiral McRaven and Georgeann, we know that we have a most worthy successor in Joe Votel.  General Votel’s quiet, decisive leadership – combining both operational and strategic expertise – is what this command will need as we confront the next generation of very dangerous and complicated threats to our country and our national security.

Like Admiral McRaven, General Votel knows that an institution is only as strong as its people. So let me close by paying tribute to all of you who do so much for this country, paying tribute to the exceptional people that Admiral McRaven so brilliantly led, and who General Votel is now charged to lead.

To all our special operators, thank you for the sacrifices you make for your country, particularly over the past 13 years of fighting in two grueling, long wars.  Your skill, your agility, and your dedication are what make you so often the choice of our forces for our highest priority missions.  And a special thank-you to your families, who make untold sacrifices and never get the amount of recognition and appreciation they deserve.

In a complicated and combustible world, this community is a precious national asset.  All Americans are inspired by your strength, your determination, and your absolute devotion to duty.  Admiral McRaven, General Votel, we are tremendously proud of both you and your families, and your stewardship of this community, and all you have commanded.

And to many of our leaders who were announced today at the beginning of this ceremony, I thank you on behalf of President Obama, our country, for your leadership, and for the men and women under your commands and what you do for our country.

To members of the Florida congressional delegation and other political leaders here, thank you for your support of our men and women and this institution. We are grateful for that support and we are grateful for your partnership.

Thank you all, and God bless you.

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