Alumni and Friends Directory
William H. McRaven
Title/Company: United States Navy Admiral (Ret.), Ninth Commander, U.S. Special Operations, and former Chancellor, The University of Texas System
Master's, Naval Postgraduate School
Bachelor's, Journalism, University of Texas, 1977
Huntsman School Interactions:
Stephen R. Covey Leadership Center Advisory Board Member 2018 - Present
William H. McRaven was born in Pinehurst, North Carolina. His father, a career Air Force officer, was stationed at Pope Air Force Base, now known as Pope Field, part of Fort Bragg. The family — including his two older sisters — moved to Texas while William was in elementary school and settled in San Antonio. His mother was born in Texas, and McRaven identifies strongly with the Lone Star State.
Young Bill McRaven was drawn to the sea at an early age and began scuba diving when he was 13. An enthusiastic athlete, he competed in as many sports as possible. He played football for the Theodore Roosevelt High School Rough Riders and particularly excelled at track. He has often cited his high school track coach, Jerry Turnbow, as a positive influence. Given the military background of his father and his family’s friends, a career in the military was something he had always considered. After graduating from high school in San Antonio, he entered the University of Texas, Austin on a track scholarship and joined Navy ROTC. After exploring pre-med and accounting courses, he found a congenial major in journalism. He enjoyed writing and found the training in concise communication extremely useful in his military career. He met Georgeann Brady in college. The couple married shortly after graduation and have raised three children. Their marriage has lasted through a 37-year military career requiring constant relocation and deployments around the world.
On entering active service in the Navy, McRaven sought and achieved admission to the training program of the Sea, Air, Land Teams (SEALs), the Navy’s elite special operations force. SEALs are trained to operate in all environments (Sea, Air, and Land) including the most extreme climatic conditions. The athletic McRaven took to the exacting demands of SEAL training, a process he likens to “a lifetime crammed into six months.”
After completing Basic Underwater Demolition SEAL Training, McRaven was assigned to the newly formed SEAL Team Six. The young lieutenant was given a squad to command but soon ran afoul of the team’s controversial commander, Richard Marcinko. Their leadership styles clashed and McRaven was relieved of his first command. Faced with this setback, the young lieutenant might have sought to continue his Naval career outside of the SEAL program, but he was determined to prove himself. He was assigned to SEAL Team Four, where he was given command of an entire platoon. McRaven succeeded in his new position and began his ascent through the ranks. In the mid-1980s, the administration of President Ronald Reagan supported a major buildup of U.S. military forces, including an expansion of the SEALs and other special forces. As the special operations community grew, McRaven’s career advanced with it.
During the Persian Gulf War of 1990-91, McRaven served as a task unit commander in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Following the war, he was task group commander in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility. He would later return to the SEALs as commander of SEAL Team Three.
McRaven earned his master’s degree at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. He had entered as a student of the National Security Affairs program, but soon saw the need for a graduate level program in special operations limited warfare, not just for the Navy, but throughout the armed services. He helped create the school’s Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict curriculum and became the program’s first graduate. His master’s thesis, The Theory of Special Operations, was published in 1996 as Spec Ops: Case Studies in Special Operations Warfare: Theory and Practice. It has been reprinted numerous times, has been translated into several languages, and is studied around the world.
In addition to his command experience and academic work, McRaven compiled an impressive record of service in administrative positions, as chief of staff at Naval Special Warfare Group One, with the Chief of Naval Operations, and as assessment director at Special Operations Command (USSOCOM). McRaven’s reputation had spread beyond the Navy and throughout the special operations community. He was named deputy commanding general for operations at the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC).
As commander of Naval Special Warfare Group One, Captain McRaven was leading a 1,000-foot freefall exercise in the summer of 2001, when an accident occurred that could easily have cost him his life. While freefalling, the man ahead of him deployed his parachute too soon, and McRaven collided with the chute as it opened. Stunned, he opened his own chute as well, but the lines wrapped his legs separately, wrenching his legs in opposite directions. Immediate surgery was able to repair his broken back and pelvis, but McRaven faced many months of sedentary recuperation. He was lying on a hospital bed in his own home on September 11, 2001, when he saw the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City. With that and the attack on the Pentagon on the same day, McRaven was immediately aware that the United States was entering a new era of armed conflict and that special operations would be needed as never before.
When he had recovered sufficiently to report for duty, he returned to Washington to serve as Deputy National Security Advisor and director for strategic planning in the National Security Council Staff’s Office of Combating Terrorism. The remaining ten years of his military career would focus almost entirely on counterterrorism operations and strategy. He was the principal author of the government’s 2006 National Strategy for Combating Terrorism.
In 2006, he was tapped to lead the Special Operations Command Europe (SOCEUR), based in Stuttgart, Germany. He served simultaneously as the first director of the NATO Special Operations Forces Coordination Centre, enhancing and integrating the efforts of all NATO Special Operations Forces. In 2008, now a three-star admiral, he became the 11th officer to serve as commander of Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), with responsibility for leading coordination of techniques, equipment, exercises, training and tactics for joint operations among the special ops community. Although JSOC is based at Fort Bragg, McRaven spent much of his time in Afghanistan, where operations intensified on his watch. In the decade following the attacks on the United States, McRaven commanded hundreds of night raids on suspected terrorist targets.
In the first months of 2011, CIA Director Leon Panetta summoned McRaven to a meeting at CIA headquarters to describe the compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan that Panetta believed might be harboring Osama bin Laden, the Al Qaeda leader who orchestrated the attacks on New York and Washington. Director Panetta asked McRaven to prepare plans for an attack on the compound. The effort was dubbed Operation Neptune Spear. President Obama promoted McRaven to four-star admiral in April and nominated him to serve as the ninth commander of the USSOC, with the responsibility of the entire special operations community. While the Senate considered the appointment, McRaven quietly proceeded with plans for the operation to eliminate Bin Laden.
During this period the SEALs, Rangers and other special forces units under McRaven’s command at JSOC were carrying out as many as 15 missions a night in Afghanistan, but Operation Neptune Spear presented difficulties unlike any other. Bin Laden’s compound lay within the territory of Pakistan, ostensibly a U.S. partner in the war against Al Qaeda and its Taliban allies. The target was less than a mile from Pakistan’s national military academy. A failed mission would not only permit America’s most wanted enemy to escape but ran the risk of antagonizing an essential ally. Secrecy and surprise were paramount, and President Obama concluded that the Pakistan government and military could not maintain operational security. The president and his advisors considered and rejected the options of a Drone missile strike or of bombing the compound. One had limited chances of success, the other ran the risk of damaging neighboring houses and injuring the occupants. McRaven applied the principles he had outlined in his book Spec Ops and proposed the plan that would delay any chance of discovery until the last possible moment. McRaven had the SEALs rehearse the mission at a full-scale replica of the compound at Bagram Air Force base in Afghanistan.
On the night of May 1, 2011, helicopters carried Seal Team Six from their base in Afghanistan into Pakistani air space. Admiral McRaven, linked by secure video from Jalalabad to the White House, briefed the president in real time as the operation progressed. Within 15 minutes of the SEALs’ arrival in Abbottabad, all resistance had been overcome and Bin Laden was dead, along with three of his companions. In the next 23 minutes, the SEALs completed a search of the premises, moved all survivors outside, destroyed one helicopter that was damaged during the landing, removed Bin Laden’s body and were on their way back to Jalalabad, two minutes ahead of scheduNews of Bin Laden’s death was greeted with nearly universal relief and approval in the United States, and as McRaven’s role in the operation became known, the Senate moved to unanimously confirm his appointment as commander of USSOCOM. Headquartered at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, USSOCOM ensures the readiness of all special forces and directs their operations worldwide. Although most of these operations, by their nature, must remain confidential, in 2010 the command reported that special forces were deployed in 75 countries. Special forces conduct counterterrorist operations, long-range reconnaissance, intelligence analysis, foreign troop training, and counter-proliferation operations to arrest the spread of weapons of mass destruction
In 2014, Admiral McRaven announced his retirement from the United States Navy after 37 years of service. In May of that year, he delivered a commencement address at his alma mater, the University of Texas at Austin. When posted on the Internet, the address drew millions of viewers in a matter of weeks. McRaven was invited to apply for the position of chancellor of the entire University of Texas system. The Board of Regents announced his appointment in July 2014, and retired Admiral McRaven assumed his duties the following January. As chancellor, he presided over a system comprising nine university campuses and six medical centers, employing 87,000 faculty and staff, with an enrollment of 216,000 students.
Chancellor McRaven expanded on the themes of his celebrated commencement address in his 2017 book, Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life… and Maybe the World. In his book, McRaven applied the lessons of his career as a Navy SEAL to the challenges of everyday life and work. In the closing days of 2017, McRaven announced his plans to retire from the University of Texas in 2018, having served four years as chancellor.
Biography sourced from achievement.org