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 drawdown.”
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.
“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,” 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.