Tacoma native a key planner of raid that killed bin Laden

A Tacoma native who rose from Stadium High School's Class of 1969 to the highest levels of U.S. Special Operations was at the side of the CIA director as a team of American forces carried out the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, lawmakers said Monday.

Navy Adm. Eric Olson, 59, was a key player in planning the raid, said U.S. Rep. Adam Smith, D-Tacoma.

Olson is the leader of the U.S. Special Operations Command at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla. That branch supplies and trains outfits such as the Army Green Berets and Navy SEALs.

Olson “was obviously intimately involved in the details of this,” said Smith, the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee. “That’s what he does every day. He keeps track of high-value targets and they’ve taken out a lot of them. This was No. 1.”

Olson’s office isn’t commenting on the raid. A spokesman for his command steered media questions to the White House.

Despite the official secrecy, lawmakers who’ve followed Olson’s career said they called the admiral to reward him for a job well done. He’s held his post at the Special Operations Command since 2007 and is expected to retire in August.

Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Belfair, has known Olson since the admiral was a cadet at the U.S. Naval Academy. Olson’s mother, former Tacoma City Councilwoman Dawn Lucien, once worked in the congressman’s office.

“I’m just glad this happened on his watch because it had to be terribly frustrating not to get to Osama bin Laden,” Dicks said.

Dicks was briefed on the intelligence that led to bin Laden’s death twice before the raid. He was planning to attend a dinner at the White House on Monday with lawmakers from both parties.

“This has been a long ordeal in Afghanistan and I’m just glad we were finally able to get this done,” Dicks said.

Stadium High basked in the news. Principal Gail Barnum delivered a lunchtime message telling students that a school alumnus was part of the team that helped get the world’s most wanted man.

“I know a lot of great people come out of Stadium. You hear about this, and you’re just like, ‘Wow,’” said Jonathan Bautista, 17, a student in the school’s Junior Navy ROTC program.

Olson has qualified as a renowned Stadium alumnus for years, though he hasn’t yet made the school’s Wall of Recognition in the main hallway. He’s met with ROTC cadets in the past and spoken at public events.

He was one of four SEALs to earn the Silver Star for actions in the 1993 battle of Mogadishu, Somalia, which was chronicled in the book and movie “Blackhawk Down.” He also is the first SEAL to lead the Special Operations Command.

“He’s an incredibly, incredibly capable person and he’s had an incredible career serving our country,” said Rep. Smith, who worked closely with Olson between 2007 and 2010 when Smith was chairman of the Subcommittee on Terrorism and Unconventional Threats and Capabilities.

A longtime friend called Olson an unassuming and quiet leader.

“He’s not going to take credit,” said Marc Blau of Tacoma, a Stadium classmate of Olson. “He is going to deflect credit to the team that made this happen. That’s been Eric from Day 1.”

Blau said he’s been planning a trip to celebrate Olson’s retirement for the past few months. Olson kept pushing back the date, and Blau said he didn’t know why. Blau said he started to get a better idea of what was keeping Olson on the job when he heard the news about bin Laden’s death.

“The first thing that came to my mind was, ‘I wonder if Eric had anything to do with this,’” Blau said.

He and some classmates traded messages about Olson and the raid Sunday and Monday.

“We’re elated to know he was leading the operation,” Blau said.

Adam Ashton: 253-597-8646