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A New Campus For The Joint Special Operations University

Apr 20, 2017

A specialized institution of higher learning has opened a new, permanent home at Tampa's MacDill Air Force Base.

The Joint Special Operations University, or JSOU, has been educating special forces for 16 years, but it is now housed in an airy, glass and steel-framed building with a sunny courtyard.

The two-story structure has 16 classrooms, two auditoriums, a library, digital planning room and research center.

The facility is secure. There are outside lock-boxes for cell phones because if taken inside, the phones will set off alarms. And many of the interior rooms can be converted into high security rooms so top secret information can be reviewed.

The university is accredited and offers professional development to military personnel from all branches, as well as a specific curriculum for Special Operations Forces known as SOF.

And with the heightened global threats from cyber spying to weapons of mass destruction, education is even more important for special operators, according to General Raymond Thomas, commander of U.S. Special Operations Command.

“I can on a daily basis tell you I can’t imagine it getting more frantic and every day somebody ramps it up a little bit more,” Thomas told a crowd of more than 100 who attended the grand opening. “And the criticality of this institution and its ability to breed leaders who have the agility that our SOF force must have to deal with these challenges going forward has never been more critical.”

While JSOU doesn’t have a mascot or football team, it does have an informal motto: You train for certainty, but educate for uncertainty.

“This is an uncertain world. We never know what the next threat might be or how the current threats will use new technology,” said Dr. Brian Maher, president of JSOU. 

He said the university is the only one of its kind that’s connected to a combatant command, SOCOM, and that’s why they’re constantly changing the curriculum. For example, one of the new courses is "design thinking," learning how to dissect a problem and bring new, varied solutions. There are classes on cultural understanding and learning to view regional conflicts from a global perspective.

“Being smarter, being adaptive, outthinking, staying ahead, that’s what we teach here” Maher said. “We don’t teach physics and math and English. We do a lot of writing but it’s analysis.”

More than 12,000 students attend class or take online courses each year at JSOU and the university has several partnerships with other universities that accept their credits.