Adm. William McRaven, retiring Special Operations chief, to lead University of Texas system


Navy Adm. William H. McRaven, the retiring commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, has been selected to lead the University of Texas system, university officials announced Tuesday. He is depicted here flashing the “Hook ‘Em Horns” symbol to graduates after making the commencement keynote address at the flagship campus in Austin on May 17. (AP Photo/ The University of Texas at Austin, Marsha Miller)

Navy Adm. William McRaven, the commander of the Pentagon’s secretive U.S. Special Operations Command, will become the next chancellor of the University of Texas system later this year after retiring from the military, university officials announced Tuesday.

McRaven was chosen as the “sole finalist” for the position following a vote by the university’s board of regents, UT officials said. He is considered an unusual choice given his lack of experience in Texas politics, and is said to have beaten out Richard Fisher, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.

McRaven, who will retire from the military after 37 years, has served as the commander of SOCOM since August 2011. In that role, he has overseen the expansion of U.S. Special Operations troops across the globe, as the United States pivots from focusing heavily on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to engaging with friendly militaries across the world and building relationships that can be used in times of crisis.

Before taking over SOCOM, McRaven planned the Navy SEAL raid into Pakistan that killed terrorist leader Osama bin Laden on May 2, 2011. At the time, he was the three-star commander of Joint Special Operations Command, a component of SOCOM that oversees the military’s most elite commandos.

McRaven earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from UT in 1977 and spent much of his childhood in Texas.

“I would be honored to have the opportunity to serve The University of Texas System and the people of Texas,” a university statement quoted McRaven as saying. “My wife Georgeann and I are excited about returning home to our family and friends. I thank the Regents for their trust and confidence in my leadership and I look forward to this extraordinary responsibility with enthusiasm and gratitude.”

In May, during a commencement speech at the UT system’s flagship university in Austin, McRaven recalled his “throbbing headache from a party the night before” he graduated and counseled the audience: “If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.”

“By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed,” he said, recalling the way his instructors in SEAL training insisted that beds be made “to perfection.” “Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter. If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right.”

The president of the Austin campus, Bill Powers, said in a statement Tuesday that McRaven “is one of the great Americans of our time,” and welcomed his appointment.

“His capacity for leadership is well matched to the size and complexity of the UT System, and his vision and love for The University of Texas will benefit our whole state,” Powers said. “I give him my hearty congratulations.”

McRaven is far from the first senior national security official to retire and take a leadership position at a university. Robert Gates retired as CIA director 1993 and became an academic, before eventually being named president of Texas A&M University. He left the university to become the U.S. secretary of defense in 2006, a position he held until stepping down in 2011.

Retired Gen. Charles Krulak, who was commandant of the Marine Corps from 1995 to 1999, currently serves as the president of Birmingham-Southern College in Alabama. Retired Gen. David Petraeus, who led the wars in Iraq and later Afghanistan before retiring from the Army in 2011 and later running the CIA, was rumored to be a leading contender to become president of Princeton University. His chances of doing so seemingly ended when he resigned from the CIA in 2012 while admitting an extramarital affair.

Dan Lamothe covers national security for The Washington Post and anchors its military blog, Checkpoint.
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Dan Lamothe · July 29, 2014