Admiral William H. McRaven
Admiral William H. McRaven

LAREDO, Texas – South Texas leaders have welcomed the selection of Admiral William H. McRaven as sole finalist for the position of UT System chancellor.

McRaven will replace Dr. Francisco Cigarroa at the beginning of 2015, UT System regents announced on Tuesday. The Laredo physician will head the pediatric transplant surgery unit at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio.

McRaven holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Texas at Austin and a master’s degree from the Navy Postgraduate School. He is currently the Commander of the United States Special Operations Command and is, perhaps, best known for coordinating the successful operation to kill Osama bin Laden.

State Sen. Judith Zaffirni, a member of the Senate Higher Education Committee, offered her congratulations to McRaven.

“Admiral McRaven has a record of legendary leadership and decisiveness. Best known for leading the successful search for Osama bin Laden, he literally wrote the book on special operations, a textbook that is required reading for courses at institutions including the National Defense University,” said Zaffirini, D-Laredo.

“As intelligent as he is humble, he is admired and respected by members of both parties as well as by the countless Longhorns who listened to his inspiring commencement address at The University of Texas at Austin in May. Because he is an accomplished strategist and no stranger to rough waters, he is expected to help navigate the UT System past recent controversy and focus on excellence.”

Zaffirini said that as a life member of the Texas Exes and a Distinguished Alumnus of UT-Austin, McRaven should be a “champion for his alma mater” and someone who “recognizes the importance of investing in excellence, affordability and accessibility” to enhance higher education opportunities for all Texans. “Accordingly, I am optimistic that he will work collaboratively and productively with legislators; regents; UT President Bill Powers and presidents of other UT intuitions; and faculty, staff, students and alumni,” Zaffirini said.

State Sen. Juan Hinojosa, D-McAllen, also offered words of praise.

“I am pleased with the selection of Admiral William H. McRaven by the UT Board of Regents as the sole candidate to be Chancellor of The University of Texas System. His outstanding and distinguished military career as a Navy Seal and lifetime service to his communities and nation are a testament to his leadership abilities, dedication and professional achievement,” Hinojosa said.

“We look forward to working with Admiral McRaven, specifically with the challenges and tremendous opportunities that await South Texas with the creation of a new university and medical school. The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, in its infancy, will need strong and effective leadership to move us forward to achieve endless educational and healthcare benefits for our families that UTRGV envisions. I am confident in Admiral McRaven’s abilities to lead the UT System and we will do whatever we can to help him succeed.”

Hinojosa signed off his statement on McRaven by saying, “I got your six!” A military phrase, it means, I have got your back.

Texas House Speaker Joe Straus, a state representative from San Antonio, said: “I want to applaud Chairman Foster and the UT Board of Regents for conducting a successful search for a new Chancellor. Admiral McRaven is a distinguished, inspiring leader whose arrival will mark a new chapter with new opportunities for the UT System. The Texas House hopes to work with him and the UT Board to put a renewed focus on serving students and meeting the needs of this state.”

The Texas Coalition for Excellence in Higher Education issued this statement on the selection of McRaven:

“We applaud the selection of Adm. William McRaven as the next chancellor of the UT System, and commend the Board of Regents on its diligent search. McRaven is a proven leader with a strong backbone and the courage of his convictions and we believe he will stand up for what is right and in the best interests of higher education. His inspirational 2014 UT Austin commencement speech gave insight into the type of leader he will be – one who respects diverse viewpoints, values collaboration and brings unmatched tenacity to his work. We look forward with optimism that McRaven will usher in a new era marked by good governance, an emphasis on excellence in research and teaching, and a cooperative environment that allows the component institutions to do what they do best: educate Texans for the future. We look forward to working with and supporting Adm. McRaven as he advances the UT System to the benefit of all Texans.”

The national search party to find a successor to Cigarroa was headed by Paul Foster, chair of the UT System regents.

“We are honored to announce Adm. McRaven as our sole finalist for the next chancellor of The University of Texas System,” Foster said. “Adm. McRaven is a nationally and internationally respected leader and a true American hero. His decades-long experience in proven strategic leadership, teamwork, vision, decision making, discipline, and working directly with national and world leaders make him an excellent choice – among a pool of extraordinarily distinguished candidates – to guide the UT System into its next chapter of greatness.”

Foster said the health and economic vitality of Texas and the nation are dependent upon the strength and innovation of our public universities. “We believe we have found the best person to lead these efforts,” Foster continued. “I am profoundly grateful to my fellow regents, Vice Chairmen Gene Powell and Steve Hicks, for their service on the search committee, and to all of the UT presidents, students, alumni and many members of the public for providing input and nominations for this leadership position. I would also like to express my sincerest gratitude to Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa for six years of stellar service to the UT System. He will be greatly missed.”

Foster added: “We were aware that getting Adm. McRaven to consider the UT System position might have presented a challenge, given high demand nationally for his leadership,” Foster said. “We were honored that he chose the UT System as the most important place where he could continue to serve his nation upon his pending retirement from a most distinguished military career.”

The son of an Air Force pilot and grandson of an Army doctor, McRaven spent his formative years growing up in San Antonio. He graduated from San Antonio’s Roosevelt High School before heading to UT Austin on an ROTC scholarship. There, he majored in journalism and met his wife. The UT System offered this biography on Admiral McRaven:

A 1977 graduate of UT Austin’s College of Communication, McRaven is a Navy SEAL who earned his master’s degree from the Naval Postgraduate School. During his 37-year distinguished military career he has commanded at every level within the special operations community. In 2011, he was named Texan of the Year by the Dallas Morning News and was also honored by Time Magazine as a runner-up for Person of the Year.

President Barack Obama nominated McRaven for his appointment to the rank of four-star admiral in 2011, and soon after he was named commander of the United States Special Operations Command. As the leader of U.S. Special Ops, McRaven oversees a 67,000-person, $10 billion operation and plays one of the nation’s premier roles in keeping the country safe.

Author of “Spec Ops: Case Studies in Special Operations Warfare: Theory and Practice,” considered a fundamental text on special operations strategy, McRaven also served as commander of Special Operations Command Europe and was tapped to be the first director of the NATO Special Operation Forces Coordination Centre.

Perhaps best known for planning and orchestrating the operation that led to the death of Osama Bin Laden and playing a supporting role in the capture of Saddam Hussein in 2003, McRaven has been called bold, innovative, visionary and courageous by national leaders and his military peers. His military career has spanned the globe. He has served as a trusted White House advisor and has spent countless hours delivering Congressional testimony, assisting lawmakers in understanding critical policy issues.

McRaven’s military legacy is not limited to strategy, warfare and securing federal support. He also spearheaded the creation of the Preservation of the Force & Family initiative, calling it a “moral imperative” to take care of the mental, spiritual and physical well-being of those who serve in the Special Operations Forces, as well as their families. His wife, Georgeann, has dedicated much of her career to playing a leadership role with military families and wounded warriors.

McRaven is also widely credited with initiating the development of the Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit or TALOS project. McRaven challenged researchers and scientists in 2013 to work together to develop a suit that could provide an exoskeleton made of liquid armor and smart fabrics to do things such as repel bullets, stop hemorrhaging and enhance sensory capabilities. Several premier research universities, including Johns Hopkins, MIT and Georgia Tech, are collaborating on the project with defense and industry leaders.

McRaven said: “I would be honored to have the opportunity to serve The University of Texas System and the people of Texas. My wife Georgeann and I are excited about returning home to our family and friends. I thank the Regents for their trust and confidence in my leadership and I look forward to this extraordinary responsibility with enthusiasm and gratitude.”

Cigarroa, who led the efforts to create a new university and medical school in the Rio Grande Valley, said this was a bittersweet moment for him. “Being chancellor of The University of Texas System has been the highlight of my career. But I am thrilled by the Board’s selection of Adm. McRaven as the sole finalist, and I truly believe that the future of the UT System could not be in more capable hands.”