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Votel tapped to lead SOCOM at MacDill, replacing McRaven

TAMPA — U.S. Special Operations Command, headquartered at MacDill Air Force Base, will be getting a new commander.

Army Lt. Gen. Joseph L. Votel, commander of the Joint Special Operations Command, has been nominated by President Barack Obama to be promoted to general and replace Adm. William McRaven, who has served as SOCOM commander since Aug. 8. 2011.

If his nomination is approved by the Senate, he will become SOCOM's 10th commander since its creation in 1987.

It would mark the second time Votel has followed in McRaven's footsteps as well as a return to Tampa.

“I am deeply honored to be nominated as the next commander of U.S. Special Operations Command and, if confirmed, I will work tirelessly on behalf of the soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, civilians and families of USSOCOM to ensure the command continues to provide the American people the world's finest Special Operations Forces,” Votel, 56, said in a message via SOCOM.

The former SOCOM chief of staff, Votel took over as head of JSOC after McRaven, 58, took over SOCOM.

The announcement of Votel's nomination was one of three made by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel Tuesday afternoon.

Adm. Bill Gortney, currently commander of U.S. Fleet Forces Command, was nominated to be commander of U.S. Northern Command and NORAD. If confirmed, he would succeed Army Gen. Charles H. Jacoby Jr. Army Gen. John Campbell, currently vice chief of staff of the Army, was nominated to command NATO's International Security Assistance Force and U.S. Forces Afghanistan. If confirmed, he would succeed Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford.

“All three are highly qualified officers who have devoted many years of service to their country,” Hagel said in a news release.

SOCOM commanders generally change every three years.

Neither McRaven nor Socom officials would comment on McRaven's future.

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For most people, overseeing the raid that killed Osama bin Laden would be the career pinnacle.

But not for McRaven, who was JSOC commander at the time, say those who know him well.

Operation Neptune Spear, the May 2, 2011 mission to Abbottabad, Pakistan that took out the al-Qaida leader, was a shining moment, but those close to McRaven say that for the former University of Texas journalism graduate, being the man in charge of all commandos was his highest honor.

“He had a lot of incredible missions that he has done for the country,” his older sister, Nan McRaven said in a telephone interview Tuesday afternoon. “I think this last assignment was so important to him and important to the country. He was able to lead all of the special operations command for the last three years, and that has been the highlight of his career. So far.”

McRaven's “legacy is one that will stand for a long, long time,” said retired Vice Adm. Joe Maguire. “Not only what he did operationally — and he will be the first guy to tell you he didn't do it alone — but more important was putting people first.”

Maguire was talking about McRaven's Preservation of the Force and Family initiative, designed to take care of the mental, spiritual and physical well being of a force McRaven often said was “fraying” and experiencing record levels of suicide. And to care for their families as well.

“This is a very mature force,” said Maguire. “If you don't take care of the family, you are going to lose the fighter... Bill's biggest legacy is the care first and foremost for his troops.”

That initiative, however, has taken a hit recently, said Maguire, with Congress taking away some of its funding.

“I'm very disappointed, a lot of folks are to some degree, that money was pulled back on the Hill,” said Maguire, who now runs the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, providing assistance to the families of fallen and injured commandos. “The program was reduced significantly from what it needs to be. And here we are right now, the same guys are heading back to Iraq.”

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Votel is the “perfect guy” to succeed McRaven, said Doug Brown, a retired Army general who ran Socom from 2003 to 2007.

“He is a seasoned warrior, with a lot of time on the battlefield, understands SOF, has had a long, long career in special operations. He is just the perfect guy to replace Adm. McRaven.”

Votel, a 1980 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, served in Panama and Sarajevo before being deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq, according to his official biography.

After attending the Army War College, Votel commanded the 75th Ranger Regiment and participated in Afghanistan and Iraq, according to his biography.

As a general officer he served in the Pentagon as director of the Army and Joint IED Defeat Task Force and subsequently as the deputy director of the Joint IED Defeat Organization established under the Deputy Secretary of Defense. He served as the deputy commanding general (Operations) of the 82nd Airborne Division/Combined Joint Task Force-82 in Afghanistan and was later named deputy commanding general of JSOC before going to Tampa, where he served as SOCOM's chief of staff before taking over JSOC.

Stu Bradin, an Army colonel who retired last month after running McRaven's operational planning team for the global special operations forces network, called Votel “an excellent nomination.”

“He is a great leader and good person,” said Bradin, now president and CEO of the Global SOF Foundation. “Votel knows operations cold and combined with SOCOM's new responsibilities with changes in the Forces For document (that assigns forces to combatant commands) and the Unified Command Plan, the Geographic Combatant Commands will get a more consistent level of effort and more responsive SOF support. The SOCOM he will command will be better postured, better resourced and tied into a global network that will facilitate future operations.”

McRaven's other major initiative — building a global special operations forces network — is in sync with national security concerns and should remain on track, Maguire said.

Votel's biggest challenges? ”We are still involved in this global SOF initiative for terrorism around the world,” said Brown. “That is going to continually be an issue for him to take on. And I think that we are also into a time of constrained resources. Even though SOCOM probably is not impacted at the level everyone else will, they will still be impacted, and since SOCOM draws on all the service common equipment, any impact on the services is an impact on SOCOM.”

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Nan McRaven said she doesn't know her brother's future plans, though whatever they are “I am sure it will bring great things.”

The family, she said, is “so proud of his career and what he has done for the country.”

She also said she is looking forward to spending more time with her brother, as is his wife and children.

Like McRaven's sister, retired Vice Adm. Maguire doesn't know for sure what's on the horizon for his old friend.

Maguire said he and McRaven have been close friends for almost four decades. He was in SEAL training a year ahead of McRaven and now McRaven and his wife, Georgeann, serve as godparents to Maguire's sons.

“I've heard all the rumors,” he said, ranging from being named the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to running for office as either governor of Texas or even Hillary Clinton's vice presidential candidate.

“I pretty much discount him running for office, at least for right now,” said Maguire. “If he does, he has my vote.”

As for the chairmanship, “I don't think the national leadership will make a decision until toward the end of the year,” said Maguire. “Who knows, he might be out of uniform by then.”

McRaven, who has served 37 years and has been involved with Operation Enduring Freedom since the beginning, has no shortage of options, said Maquire.

“He would like a change of command at the end of August,” said Maguire. “He and his wife will take time off and spend time together and sort things out. They are in no hurry to make hasty decisions.”

haltman@tampatrib.com
 

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