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Overseer of bin Laden raid to head Special Ops Command at MacDill

TAMPA — He majored in journalism and loves to write. He wrote a book translated into a dozen languages. His dad played in the NFL. And it's a safe bet nobody else in his journalism class ever offered to sacrifice sheep — and meant it.

One other thing: He helped kill Osama bin Laden.

This is Vice Adm. William H. McRaven, 55, commander of Joint Special Operations Command, or JSOC, at Fort Bragg, N.C. He oversaw preparations and planning for the Navy SEAL raid that killed bin Laden.

And he's coming to Tampa.

On April 6, McRaven was nominated by President Barack Obama to become the new chief of U.S. Special Operations Command at MacDill Air Force Base later this year. The command spearheads the nation's fight against global terrorism.

Prospects for his Senate confirmation? Excellent.

"He's got a keen analytical mind," said Bobby Inman, a retired admiral who was director of the National Security Agency. "This was an extremely skillful, tough mission. (SOCom) will be in capable hands."

Inman, who met McRaven at a dinner last year, said McRaven laughed at the incongruity of a journalism grad heading the secretive world of special forces.

Time has dubbed McRaven "the most deadly would-be journalist in the world."

Nan McRaven, McRaven's older sister, said she spoke to her brother after the raid. She said he was tired. "But he sounded good," she said. "He was very complimentary of his team and the president. I just told him how proud we were of him."

McRaven is the youngest of three children, a military child who traveled around the world with his family. His father, the late Col. Claude "Mac" McRaven, was a pilot in World War II who flew British Spitfire fighters, escorting bombers across the channel.

Mac was a college football star. He played one year for the NFL's Cleveland Rams in 1939. He was in Wheaties commercials.

The father was deeply proud of his son, and was alive long enough to see McRaven's climb up the ranks, said Nan McRaven.

William McRaven was himself an athlete. He took up scuba diving before he left elementary school in San Antonio, Texas. "I think it had something to do with the 007 movies," she said.

He eventually joined elite special forces as a Navy SEAL after graduating in 1977 with that journalism degree from the University of Texas at Austin.

His sister said he always intended to join the Navy. Being a journalist just provided a well-rounded education.

In 1995, McRaven published Spec Ops, a standard read in special forces. One line from it could have been ripped from the playbook of the bin Laden raid.

"Special operations forces succeed … when they are able to gain relative superiority through … a simple plan, carefully concealed, repeatedly and realistically rehearsed and executed with surprise, speed and purpose."

In 2008, McRaven became chief of JSOC.

McRaven is known to accompany his men on "snatch-and-grab" raids of terrorists. But with bin Laden, he oversaw his SEALs from a base in Afghanistan.

Perhaps the darkest episode in McRaven's career came last year.

After a botched raid by his men that killed five civilians, McRaven visited an Afghan father whose sons were among those killed. McRaven's subordinate held two sheep.

Under the local culture, a ritual sacrifice at an adversary's door is a way of seeking forgiveness, the Times of London reported.

McRaven, a father of three, offered up the sheep.

"Sir, you and I are very different," McRaven said. "You are a family man with many children and many friends. I am a soldier. I have spent most of my career overseas away from my family.

"But I have children as well, and my heart grieves for you. But we have one thing in common. We have the same God. He is a God who shows great love and compassion. … I pray today that He will show mercy on me and my men for this awful tragedy."

McRaven then presented the man with $30,000 wrapped in a handkerchief. The Afghan was unsure he would forgive. But on one thing he was adamant.

The sheep were spared.

Times researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report. William R. Levesque can be reached at or (813) 226-3432.

Overseer of bin Laden raid to head Special Ops Command at MacDill 05/05/11 [Last modified: Friday, May 6, 2011 9:33am]
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