Defense Media Network

Interview With Adm. William H. McRaven, USN, Commander, U.S. Special Operations Command

What are your priorities for USSOCOM and SOF?

I have four priorities.

The first is “Win the Current Fight.”

By that I mean implementing a plan where USSOCOM and SOF support the national military strategy. This clearly includes a heavy emphasis on Afghanistan, but it is not limited to operations in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility. In order to effectively disrupt and degrade violent extremist organizations, we must continue applying the indirect approach to build partner-nation capacity in all of the areas where conditions make populations susceptible to the false promises of extremist ideologies. We also must be prepared to apply direct action when and where the national command authority determines it is necessary.

The first is “Win the Current Fight.”

The direct approach captures everyone’s attention and imagination, but those operations only buy time and space. The broader indirect approach with an emphasis on building partner-nation capacity is what achieves enduring success.

My second priority is to expand SOF’s capabilities by working with the geographic combatant commands, our interagency partners, and allied special operations forces to strengthen the global SOF network.

The current fiscal reality has made this priority exceedingly important.

Special Forces In Afghanistan

Coalition special operations forces pararescue jumpers lower a stretcher during a medical evacuation in Nuristan province, Afghanistan, April 13, 2012. Afghan National Army commandos and coalition special operations forces, the first to visit that area in more than two years, defeated insurgent forces overrunning a village. Commando-led missions provide national security by encouraging local villagers to look to government forces for support rather than insurgents. One of Adm. McRaven’s priorities is to “win the current fight.” U.S. Department of Defense photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Clayton Weis

As a nation, we have to find new solutions to effectively provide for our defense in a fiscally constrained environment. SOF, with its ability to operate with small, unobtrusive, cost-effective elements working with partner-nation forces, clearly is one of the solutions.

The genesis of the idea of strengthening the global SOF network comes from my days as the Special Operations Command Europe commander. When I was the SOCEUR commander, we established the NATO Special Operations Coordination Cell, which eventually became today’s NATO-SOF Headquarters (NSHQ). The NSHQ has paid tremendous dividends by establishing a vehicle to conduct NATO SOF-centric professional military education, combined training opportunities, and information-sharing opportunities. This has proved invaluable to our efforts in Afghanistan, where the NSHQ’s success has led to an increase in our collective SOF partnering efforts and an expansion of overall SOF capabilities throughout ISAF [International Security Assistance Force].

To be effective, this initiative must be worked through and with the Joint Staff, OSD [Office of the Secretary of Defense], the State Department, and ultimately the geographic combatant commanders for which it is designed. But once in place, an expanded global SOF network will better enable our allies and partners to address a myriad of emerging threats to our collective national securities.

As I said earlier, in order to accomplish the first two priorities, we must accomplish my third priority, and that is preserving our force and families. We’ve been at war for over 10 years and the cumulative physical and emotional strain our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines and their families have experienced requires careful attention and immediate action.

Earlier I discussed some of the initiatives the Preservation of the Force and Family Task Force is working on, but an underpinning of these initiatives is the need for the force to improve its communication – within its families and organizations. We are looking at a number of ways to fix this problem and are implementing a variety of tools such as Facebook and other social media programs as part of the fix.

As I mentioned earlier, our people are our most valuable asset and I am committed to doing everything I can to ensure our outstanding SOF warriors and their families are taken care of – now – and for years to come.

As an institution, SOF is well positioned to strengthen a network that has been slowly built over the years.


How is SOCOM positioned to build the global SOF network?

As an institution, SOF is well positioned to strengthen a network that has been slowly built over the years. This network is a natural extension of what we have been doing for decades. Expanding the SOF network is about increasing and strengthening our partnerships throughout the global SOF enterprise. With current fiscal constraints, not only in the U.S. but worldwide, we have to find new solutions to effectively operate in the current strategic environment. In the U.S., and in particular over the last 10 years, the nation has recognized the value of SOF’s ability to work in an ambiguous environment.

I want to assist other nations’ SOF capabilities to help deal with the myriad of emerging threats. There is a clear recognition that developing enduring partnerships is a key component of our long-term military strategy.

Again, all of these initiatives are and will be worked through the appropriate agencies and organizations like the Joint Staff, OSD, State [Department], and the geographic combatant commanders.


The fiscal year 2013 budget proposal for USSOCOM is only slightly smaller than the FY 2012 budget. The services, on the other hand, are facing larger reductions. Will reductions in the service budgets cause a reduction in service-provided enabler support to SOF?

While we have experienced cuts, they have been relatively small, especially compared to the cuts the services are facing. I trust the decision-makers who are required to make hard but necessary choices in an increasingly austere fiscal environment. However, the budget request for fiscal year 2013, if approved, is an essential step toward meeting the growing demand on SOF and sustaining our programs and initiatives.

The services have been very supportive of SOF, and we will and must remain closely aligned with and supportive of the services. They provide SOF a great deal of support that we absolutely depend on. We need to be aware of how current budget challenges impact the services and if there will be a resulting impact on the services’ ability to support SOF.

This article was first published in The Year in Special Operations: 2012-2013 Edition.

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John D. Gresham lives in Fairfax, Va. He is an author, researcher, game designer, photographer,...

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    Susan Polizzotto

    ” the guy that ends up becoming a SEAL is not always the strongest, the fastest, and the bravest. He was the guy who just kept going. As Vince Lombardi said, “It’s not whether you get knocked down; it’s whether you get up.”

    Couldn’t agree more, or say it any better. Reminds me of a Japanese proverb that inspired me thru many difficult times: Nana korobi, ya oki. trans. if you fall down seven times, stand up eight.