Navy officer is selected to head SOCom

Published May 12, 2007

TAMPA - President Bush has nominated the deputy commander of U.S. Special Operations Command to replace its chief when he retires this summer, the Defense Department announced.

If the Senate, as expected, confirms the nomination of Vice Adm. Eric Olson, 55, to replace Gen. Bryan "Doug" Brown, Navy officers for the first time will head the two military commands leading the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Earlier this year, Adm. William Fallon took over as chief of U.S. Central Command. Both CentCom and SOCom are based at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa.

Olson would also be elevated to the rank of admiral. SOCom said Olson, its deputy commander since August 2003, would not comment.

"I think he's exactly the right person for the job, " Brown said in a statement to the St. Petersburg Times. "He has incredible joint credentials in special operations and is well known through the entire (special operations) community. He has been intimately involved in everything SOCom has been doing, so (he) knows the issues."

Brown, 58, who has headed SOCom since September 2003, is stepping down after 40 years of military service. Brown joined the Army in 1967 as a private, served in Vietnam and rose to the rank of four-star general.

Brown headed SOCom during a period of dramatic change and growth. After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Bush tagged SOCom to be the lead command in the fight against global terrorism.

SOCom leads the nation's elite commandoes, including the Delta Force and Navy SEALs.

Olson is a native of Tacoma, Wash., and a 1973 graduate of the Naval Academy. He has served in special forces for over 30 years, including service with the SEALs. (SEAL is an acronym for Sea, Air and Land.)

Olson also has served as a United Nations military observer in Israel and Egypt.

He earned a master's degree in national security affairs from the Naval Postgraduate School and studied both Arabic and French at the Defense Language Institute.

Asked about the special challenge of two naval officers heading what is largely a ground war in Iraq and Afghanistan, Brown was undisturbed.

"He and Adm. Fallon will make a great team, " Brown said. "The L in SEAL stands for land."

William R. Levesque can be reached at levesque@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3436.