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Ground broken on new special ops university at MacDill

TAMPA — They don't have a football team. Haircuts on campus tend to be shorter than at most universities. It takes a top-secret clearance to get into some classes.

And students might be asked to talk about how to disrupt terrorist financial networks using lethal methods.

This is higher education — commando style.

U.S. Special Operations Command broke ground Thursday on a $34 million building for its Joint Special Operations University near SOCom's headquarters at MacDill Air Force Base. The 90,000-square-foot facility will provide a permanent home for a school that has been housed in an old credit union building just outside MacDill's main gate for about three years.

The new building is expected to be ready by the fall of 2015 and provides just the latest indication that, despite all the talk of Pentagon budget cuts, MacDill remains well positioned to survive in a leaner military post-Afghanistan.

"Nowhere in the world, literally, will you find such an academic institution dedicated to the professional study and practice of special operations," said Lt. Gen. John Mulholland Jr., SOCom's deputy commander.

The university was created in 2000 and was first located at Hurlburt Field in Florida's Panhandle to educate military and civilian leadership about how special operations forces are employed and on related national security issues. Officials say the school emphasizes critical thinking.

Last year, more than 8,200 military and civilian personnel participated in 150 seminars and courses, according to SOCom.

Shakespeare and Astronomy 101 won't be found in the university's course catalog, but at least three classes on aspects of irregular warfare are in the curriculum. No need to dust off that SAT primer — the special ops university is not open to the public and is not a university in the traditional sense of a four-year, degree-granting institution.

But the school has national accreditation, and coursework may be eligible for credit at other higher-education institutions.

The university is "making the difference in that intellectual agility that our forces have out on a very, very complex and ambiguous battlefield" the university's president, Brian Maher, said at the ground-breaking ceremony. "There was always some resistance. But we've made it."

Mulholland said such a school is needed for special operations forces to remain relevant in the modern world when the United States and its allies work together to battle threats to national security.

"We intend to deeply and comprehensively teach, inform and discuss that which you will find nowhere else in academia," he said.

William R. Levesque can be reached at levesque@tampabay.com.

Ground broken on new special ops university at MacDill 02/27/14 [Last modified: Thursday, February 27, 2014 11:12pm]

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