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Retired Special Ops leader Eric Olson returning to Tacoma for his first talk since bin Laden raid

Post by Adam Ashton / The News Tribune on April 8, 2013 at 11:05 am with No Comments »
April 8, 2013 3:37 pm

The Tacoma native son who went on to lead the U.S. Special Operations Command through its final stretch to find and kill Osama bin Laden is returning to his hometown this week for his first public event here since he retired from the Navy almost two years ago.

Retired Adm. Eric Olson, 61, is speaking Thursday evening at Clover Park Technical College’s McGavick Conference Center. Tickets are still available and can be purchased here.

He’s helping raise money for the Kiwanis Club of Tacoma’s children’s programs. Doors open at 6 p.m., and his talk on “The World at Night: Special Operations and Future Threats” begins at 7 p.m.

I spoke with Olson and his brother, Kurt, for a story advancing the talk that we’re planning to run in the newspaper tomorrow.

Kurt Olson, 59, calls his older brother “the most famous guy you’ve never heard of” because of the former admiral’s humble nature and tendency to credit others for shared accomplishments.

Kurt Olson remembered his brother as a tough, driven young man who wouldn’t cry no matter how hard he fell. Eric Olson was interested in the water as a child, and glued together his own wet suit from scraps when he couldn’t pay for a new one.

“It was always in his blood,” Kurt Olson said.

Eric Olson passed his initial training to join the Navy SEALs in 1974. He received a Silver Star for his bravery in the “Black Hawk Down” battle in Somalia 20 years ago. He later  became the first SEAL to reach the rank of four-star admiral. He led the U.S. Special Operations Command from 2007 to 2011, overseeing a doubling in the ranks of Special Operators during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Here’s how retired Adm. Mike Mullen, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, toasted Eric Olson at an August 2011 retirement ceremony for the Tacoman.

“When the history of these wars is written, the first, last and most pivotal chapters will be about Eric and the people he has led and trained and mentored his entire adult life. From the shadows of the Hindu Kush to the streets of Baghdad, our special operators have literally changed the face of modern warfare, operating in 65 countries in some of the toughest places we know, and many more than we do not and cannot know. 

“You have protected other people, trained other armies, killed or captured enemy leaders by the score, and integrated so deeply and so manifestly into the broad sweep of military operations that to plan a mission without first considering the capabilities you bring to bear is at once incomprehensible and ill-advised. We would not be where we are in these wars, we would not have seen the success we have enjoyed, nor witnessed the fraying of al-Qaida and other extremist networks without your quiet courage. In the process, you made the rest of us better. 
“Your focus, your ability to plan, and your personal excellence have deeply influenced those conventional forces with whom you have served. And when they return home or report to their next commands, they do so more ready and more connected to the fight. The truth is, we need this community’s leadership now more than ever.”
Check out Eric Olson’s discussion at the 2011 Aspen Institute with ABC News’ Martha Raddatz. Here’s Raddatz’s last shot at persuading Olson to take some credit for the bin Laden raid – for his mother’s sake.

Spoiler: He doesn’t.

And here’s the full Aspen talk.


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