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William H. McRaven

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William McRaven
McRaven in 2012
11th Chancellor of the University of Texas System
In office
January 5, 2015 – May 31, 2018
Preceded byFrancisco G. Cigarroa
Succeeded byJames B. Milliken
9th Commander In Chief of the United States Special Operations Command
In office
August 8, 2011 – August 28, 2014
PresidentBarack Obama
DeputyDavid P. Fridovich
John F. Mulholland Jr.
Preceded byEric T. Olson
Succeeded byJoseph Votel
Personal details
William Harry McRaven

(1955-11-06) November 6, 1955 (age 68)
Pinehurst, North Carolina, U.S.
EducationUniversity of Texas, Austin (BA)
Naval Postgraduate School (MS)
Military service
AllegianceUnited States
Branch/serviceUnited States Navy
Years of service1977–2014
UnitSEAL Team Six
CommandsU.S. Special Operations Command
Joint Special Operations Command
Special Operations Command Europe
Naval Special Warfare Group 1
SEAL Team 3
Battles/warsPersian Gulf War
 • Operation Desert Shield
 • Operation Desert Storm
War on terror
 • Operation Enduring Freedom
 • Operation Neptune Spear
War in Afghanistan
Iraq War
AwardsDefense Distinguished Service Medal (3)
Defense Superior Service Medal (2)
Legion of Merit (2)
Bronze Star (2)

William Harry McRaven (born November 6, 1955) is a retired United States Navy four-star admiral who served as the ninth commander of the United States Special Operations Command (SOCOM) from August 8, 2011 to August 28, 2014. From 2015 to 2018, he was the chancellor of The University of Texas System.

McRaven served from June 13, 2008 to August 2011 as commander of Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC)[1] and from June 2006 to March 2008 as commander of Special Operations Command Europe (SOCEUR).[1] In addition to his duties as COMSOCEUR, he was designated as the first director of the NATO Special Operations Forces Coordination Center (NSCC), where he was charged with enhancing the capabilities and inter-operability of all NATO Special Operations Forces. McRaven retired from the U.S. Navy on September 1, 2014, after more than 37 years of service.[2]

McRaven was reportedly considered by President Joe Biden for appointment as Secretary of Defense[3] before Biden nominated Lloyd Austin.

Early life[edit]

McRaven was born in Pinehurst, North Carolina. He is the son of Anna Elizabeth (Long) and Col. Claude C. McRaven, a Spitfire fighter pilot in World War II[4][5] who played briefly in the NFL,[6] and has two older sisters. His father, a career Air Force officer, was stationed at Pope Air Force Base, now known as Pope Field, part of the former Fort Bragg now Fort Liberty. His family moved to Texas while he was in elementary school and settled in San Antonio. McRaven attended Theodore Roosevelt High School where he took part in track.[7]

McRaven attended the University of Texas at Austin where he was a walk-on member of the track team, and was a member of the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps. He graduated in 1977 with a bachelor's degree in journalism,[8] and was named a Distinguished Alumnus in 2012.[9][10] McRaven holds a master's degree from the Naval Postgraduate School, where he helped establish and was the first graduate from the Special operations/Low intensity conflict curriculum.

Naval career[edit]

Special operations[edit]

After graduating from The University of Texas at Austin, McRaven was commissioned as an officer (Ensign) in the U.S. Navy and volunteered for Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training (BUD/S). After six months of training, McRaven graduated with BUD/S class 95 in January 1978. Following completion of a six-month probationary period, he received the 1130 designator as a Naval Special Warfare Officer, entitled to wear the Special Warfare insignia. As a Navy SEAL officer, McRaven was deployed to the Philippines with Naval Special Warfare Unit One in 1979 and 1981.[11][12] In 1982, as a junior officer, McRaven received assignment to SEAL Team Six in Dam Neck, Virginia under the command of CDR Richard Marcinko and completed a specialized selection and training course. McRaven served as assault team leader but was relieved of duty in 1983 due to McRaven's concerns about military discipline, and difficulties in keeping his sailors in line at the command. Richard Marcinko fired the 27-year-old McRaven in 1983. "He was a bright guy, but he didn't like my rude and crude way," Marcinko said. "If I was a loose cannon, he was too rigid. He took the special out of special warfare."[13] McRaven was transferred to another east coast based SEAL team.

McRaven served numerous staff and command assignments within the special operations community, including platoon commander at Underwater Demolition Team 21/SEAL Team Four, squadron commander at Naval Special Warfare Development Group, executive officer of SEAL Team ONE, task unit commander during the Persian Gulf War, task group commander in the CENTCOM area of responsibility, commanding officer of SEAL Team THREE from 1994 to 1996, deputy commander for operations at JSOC, commanding officer of Naval Special Warfare Group ONE from 1999 to 2001.[14] In early 2001 McRaven suffered a broken pelvis in a parachute accident during a training exercise.[15][16] McRaven earned a Master of Arts degree at the Naval Postgraduate School in 1993. McRaven's thesis was titled "The Theory of Special Operations" (republished in 1995 as Spec Ops: Case Studies in Special Operations Warfare: Theory and Practice).[17][18]

McRaven later served as a staff officer with an interagency coordination concentration, including as the director for Strategic Planning in the Office of Combating Terrorism on the National Security Council Staff, assessment director at U.S. Special Operations Command, on the Staff of the Chief of Naval Operations and the chief of staff at Naval Special Warfare Group 1.

McRaven was the deputy to General Stanley A. McChrystal and later leader of a battle group targeting Al Qaeda in Iraq called 'Task Force 714', which proved to be innovative and highly successful.[19]After McRaven took command of JSOC in 2008 he was prompted to request that a unit be stood up to deal with engaging female Afghans on different special operations in Afghanistan. These teams would be called Cultural Support Teams, or CSTs.[20][21]

Georgeann Brady McRaven, McRaven's wife, and Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta affix Navy Adm. William H. McRaven's new rank as a Four-Star Admiral at a U.S. Special Operations Command ceremony at MacDill Air Force Base, in Tampa, Florida, August 8, 2011
(L-R) U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, speaks with William McRaven, at a reception at the LBJ Presidential Library, in the background, at center, is Carmel Fenves, wife of University of Texas at Austin president Greg Fenves

On April 6, 2011, McRaven was nominated by President Barack Obama for promotion from the rank of vice admiral to admiral and appointed as the ninth commander of USSOCOM,[22] of which JSOC is a component.

In his confirmation hearings, McRaven "endorsed a steady manpower growth rate of 3% to 5% a year" and favored more resources for USSOCOM. After the Armed Services committee hearings, in late June, McRaven was confirmed unanimously by the Senate for his promotion to full Admiral and assignment as commander of USSOCOM[23] and took command August 8. The transfer ceremony was led by Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta in Tampa, with ADM Eric T. Olson also in attendance, two days after the Wardak Province helicopter crash which cost 30 Americans, including 22 SEALs, their lives. With several hundred in attendance, Panetta spoke of sending "a strong message of American resolve [and] ... carry[ing] on the fight".[6]

Operation Neptune's Spear[edit]

McRaven is credited for organizing and overseeing the execution of Operation Neptune's Spear,[24] the special ops raid that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden on May 2, 2011. CIA Director Leon Panetta delegated operational and execution decisions on the raid to McRaven, who had worked almost exclusively on counter-terrorism operations and strategy since 2001.[24]

According to The New York Times, "In February, Mr. Panetta called then-Vice Adm. William H. McRaven, commander of the Pentagon's Joint Special Operations Command, to CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, to give him details about bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, and to begin planning a military strike. Admiral McRaven, a veteran of the covert world who had written a book on American Special Operations, spent weeks working with the CIA on the operation, and came up with three options: a helicopter assault using U.S. Navy SEALs, a strike with B-2 bombers that would obliterate the compound, or a joint raid with Pakistani intelligence operatives who would be told about the mission hours before the launch." The day before the assault, President Obama "took a break from rehearsing for the White House Correspondents Dinner that night to call Admiral McRaven, to wish him luck".[25]

A June 2013 Freedom of Information request revealed that on May 13, 2011, McRaven sent an email titled "OPSEC Guidance / Neptune Spear" that instructed redacted recipients that "all photos [of UBL's remains] should have been turned over to the CIA; if you still have them destroy them immediately" or "get them to" a recipient whose identity was redacted.[26][27]

In December 2011, McRaven was runner-up for Time Person of the Year for his role in the operation.[28]

Retirement from the military[edit]

In June 2014, it was announced that Admiral McRaven had his request for retirement approved after a 37-year career.[29] Admiral McRaven retired from the U.S. Navy on September 1, 2014. During the last few years of his career he was also Bull Frog, the longest serving Navy SEAL still on duty, having succeeded his SOCOM predecessor Eric T. Olson in the title.[30][31]

The University of Texas Chancellor[edit]

Admiral McRaven was selected as the next chancellor of the University of Texas System in July 2014. He was appointed on January 5, 2015.[32][33]

The Trump campaign transition team considered McRaven as a potential candidate for National Security Adviser.[34]

On May 31, 2018, McRaven stepped down from his position as chancellor of the university,[35] due to chronic health issues and a desire to spend more time with his family.[36]

McRaven joined the board of the multinational ConocoPhillips, effective October 2018.[37]

McRaven approved the spending of $215 million on land in south Houston so that the UT system could expand. The land was a former chemical manufacturing site and was contaminated. The more than 300-acre parcel was formerly owned by another UT alumnus. McRaven sidestepped the Texas Legislature which should have been informed of the purchase at a time when funds for higher education have been cut. McRaven was also criticized for the unknown amount that would be needed remediate the soil of contaminates.[38]

In 2022, McRaven joined the board of Palantir Technologies.[39]

Disputes with President Trump[edit]

"Therefore, I would consider it an honor if you would revoke my security clearance as well, so I can add my name to the list of men and women who have spoken up against your presidency."

William McRaven, open letter to President Donald Trump, August 16, 2018[40]

In August 2018, McRaven expressed support for former CIA Director John O. Brennan, whose security clearance had recently been revoked by the Trump Administration. He authored an open letter to President Donald Trump in The Washington Post entitled "Revoke my security clearance, too, Mr. President", in which he affirmed his regard for Brennan, his former colleague, and offered criticism of the decisions and personal behavior of President Trump.[40] McRaven said of Brennan, "He is a man of unparalleled integrity, whose honesty and character have never been in question ... except by those who don't know him." Of Trump, McRaven wrote, "Through your actions, you have embarrassed us in the eyes of our children, humiliated us on the world stage and, worst of all, divided us as a nation."[41]

In a November 18, 2018, interview on Fox News, Chris Wallace mentioned McRaven's name. Trump called McRaven a "Hillary Clinton fan" and accused McRaven of being a fan of former President Barack Obama. McRaven later told CNN, "I did not back Hillary Clinton or anyone else. I am a fan of President Obama and President George W. Bush, both of whom I worked for. I admire all presidents, regardless of their political party, who uphold the dignity of the office and who use that office to bring the nation together in challenging times."[42] One media source noted that Trump's ire seemed to be rooted in "McRaven's criticism that the president's rhetoric toward the press is the 'greatest threat to democracy' in his lifetime".[43]

On October 17, 2019, McRaven published an op-ed in The New York Times with the headline "Our Republic Is Under Attack From the President", arguing that if Trump did not demonstrate leadership, he was to be replaced. He elaborated his position in a CNN interview the same day, saying that Trump was undermining domestic institutions and damaging America's international standing, especially with respect to the treatment of the Kurds during the 2019 Turkish offensive into north-eastern Syria.[44]

Upon the February 2020 dismissal by the president of Joseph Maguire for having briefed congressional intelligence committee members about emerging evidence of foreign efforts to interfere in the 2020 presidential election, McRaven authored a guest editorial in The Washington Post in which he declared that, "As Americans, we should be frightened — deeply afraid for the future of the nation. When good men and women can't speak the truth, when facts are inconvenient, when integrity and character no longer matter, when presidential ego and self-preservation are more important than national security — then there is nothing left to stop the triumph of evil."[45]

Admiral William McRaven emphasized the global necessity for U.S. leadership, highlighting concerns among allies about potential U.S. withdrawal from international affairs if former President Trump is reelected. McRaven stressed the importance of maintaining strong alliances globally to ensure effective global leadership, referencing Winston Churchill's sentiment on the value of alliances.[46]

Personal life[edit]

McRaven is the son of a career Air Force officer.[47] McRaven married Georgeann Brady, then a fellow undergraduate at the University of Texas at Austin, in 1978.[48][49] They have three children.[50] McRaven attended the 2012 White House Correspondents' Association Dinner as the guest of his fifth grade classmate, Karen Tumulty.[51] McRaven was approached by the centrist group No Labels as a potential candidate for the 2024 Presidential Race.[52]

In a comprehensive interview, Admiral William McRaven discussed the importance of sustained U.S. leadership on the global stage, particularly as the 2024 election approaches with concerns over potential isolationist policies. He noted the challenges in military recruitment exacerbated by the pandemic but expressed optimism about future improvements. McRaven emphasized the necessity of continued U.S. support for Ukraine amid its ongoing conflict, highlighting the strategic and humanitarian reasons for backing. He also addressed the situation in Gaza, advocating for balanced U.S. guidance to minimize civilian casualties while managing regional conflicts effectively.[46]


McRaven and his wife are the members of the board of the Special Operations Warrior Foundation.[53]

In March 2024, McRaven was granted $50-million Courage and Civility Award by Jeff Bezos and his fiancée Lauren Sánchez in recognition of his services to the community.[54] He said he would use the gift to focus on educating the children of deceased veterans, the mental health performance of veterans, and educating the future military leaders.[55]

Awards and decorations[edit]

Award ribbons and badges[edit]

Bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Gold star
Gold star
Gold star
Gold star
Gold star
Bronze star
Bronze star
Bronze star
Bronze star
Bronze star
Bronze star

Award and badge names[edit]

Naval Special Warfare insignia
Defense Distinguished Service Medal
w/ two bronze oak leaf clusters
Defense Superior Service Medal with oak leaf cluster
Legion of Merit with one gold award star Bronze Star Medal with gold award star Defense Meritorious Service Medal
Meritorious Service Medal with three gold award stars Joint Service Commendation Medal Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal
Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal Combat Action Ribbon Navy Unit Commendation with two bronze service stars
National Intelligence Distinguished Public Service Medal Navy "E" Ribbon National Defense Service Medal with bronze service star
Southwest Asia Service Medal with three bronze service stars Afghanistan Campaign Medal Iraq Campaign Medal
Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal Global War on Terrorism Service Medal Navy Sea Service Deployment Ribbon
Navy and Marine Corps Overseas Service Ribbon Legion of Honor[56] Kuwait Liberation Medal (Saudi Arabia)
Kuwait Liberation Medal (Kuwait) Navy Expert Rifleman Medal Navy Expert Pistol Shot Medal
Navy and Marine Corps Parachutist Insignia
Presidential Service Badge United States Special Operations
Command Badge

Additional awards[edit]

In media[edit]

  • Dirty Wars, a 2013 American documentary, includes McRaven revisiting the site and survivors of the Khataba raid to apologize.
  • His 2014 commencement address for the University of Texas at Austin received almost 60,000,000 views (as of Dec. 5, 2022) on YouTube.[61][62][63][64] The speech has been particularly influential in modern culture, having been described as "inspiring" and with lots of wisdom to be found packed into the 20 minute speech.[65]
  • He was portrayed by Christopher Stanley in the 2012 film Zero Dark Thirty.[66]
  • McRaven was featured by Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday in the segment "Power Player of the Week," September 5, 2021" on remembering those who served in the military embracing "the hero code", the subject and title of his new book.[67][68]
  • In 2021, the speech used in the song by Ben Gold & Allen Watts in trance music called "Change the World".[69]


  • McRaven, William H. (1995). Spec Ops: Case Studies in Special Operations Warfare Theory and Practice. Presidio Press. ISBN 978-0-89141-544-2. (Paperback: ISBN 978-0-89141-600-5)
  • McRaven, William H. (2017). Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life...And Maybe the World. Grand Central Publishing. ISBN 978-1455570249.
  • McRaven, William H. (2019). Sea Stories: My Life in Special Operations. Grand Central Publishing. ISBN 978-1-5837-2974-8.
  • McRaven, William H. (2021). The Hero Code: Lessons Learned From Lives Well Lived. Grand Central Publishing. ISBN 978-1-5387-1996-1.
  • McRaven, William H. (2023). The Wisdom Of The Bullfrog: Leadership Made Simple (But Not Easy). Grand Central Publishing. ISBN 978-1-5387-0794-4.


Public Domain This article incorporates public domain material from Admiral William H. McRaven. United States Navy.

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  17. ^ H., Mcraven (June 18, 1993). "The Theory of Special Operations".
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  27. ^ McConnell, Dugald (February 11, 2014). "Admiral's e-mail on photos of Osama bin Laden's corpse: 'Destroy them'". CNN. Retrieved February 12, 2014.
  28. ^ Gellman, Barton (December 14, 2011). "William McRaven: The Admiral". Time Magazine. Archived from the original on December 14, 2011.
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  33. ^ "UT regents confirm McRaven as next system chancellor - Austin Business Journal". Bizjournals.com. August 4, 2014. Retrieved August 21, 2014.
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  43. ^ Samuels, Brett, Trump stokes new unlikely feud, The Hill, November 19, 2018
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  45. ^ McRaven, William H., William McRaven: If good men like Joe Maguire can't speak the truth, we should be deeply afraid, Washington Post, February 21, 2020
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  48. ^ "Navy hero and his first mate make brain health their special ops". The Dallas Morning News. January 20, 2019.
  49. ^ "The full interview with the 2011 Texan of the Year, Bill McRaven". Dallas Morning News. December 24, 2011. Retrieved August 21, 2014.
  50. ^ "The Quiet Professional". The Alcalde. Texas Exes. June 24, 2011. Retrieved August 21, 2014.
  51. ^ Parker, Kathleen (May 1, 2012). "The unknown celebrity". The Washington Post. Retrieved May 3, 2012.
  52. ^ "Potential 2024 candidates keep saying no, but No Labels is pressing forward anyway". NBC News. March 19, 2024. Retrieved March 28, 2024.
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  54. ^ "Eva Longoria and Bill McRaven Receive $100 Million From Jeff Bezos". The Republic Reporter. March 15, 2024. Retrieved March 15, 2024.
  55. ^ Haring, Bruce (March 15, 2024). "Jeff Bezos Gives $50M Each To Eva Longoria And Admiral Bill McRaven". Deadline. Retrieved March 15, 2024.
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  57. ^ "Golden Plate Awardees of the American Academy of Achievement". www.achievement.org. American Academy of Achievement.
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  63. ^ Speech To Change Your Life Today! Admiral McRaven "Make Your Bed" Motivational Words Of Wisdom, retrieved December 5, 2022
  64. ^ ENGLISH SPEECH | ADMIRAL WILLIAM H. MCRAVEN: Change the World (English Subtitles), retrieved December 5, 2022
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  67. ^ msn.com (September 5, 2021). Former "Navy Admiral remembers those who served with 'the hero code'". Retrieved September 5, 2021.
  68. ^ McRaven, William H. (2021). The Hero Code: Lessons Learned From Lives Well Lived. Grand Central Publishing. ISBN 978-1-5387-1996-1.
  69. ^ "Ben Gold & Allen Watts - Change The World (Official Music Video)". YouTube. Archived from the original on December 21, 2021. Retrieved October 20, 2021.

External links[edit]

Military offices
Preceded by Commander of Joint Special Operations Command
Succeeded by
Preceded by Commander of United States Special Operations Command
Academic offices
Preceded by Chancellor of the University of Texas System
Succeeded by