McRaven, by reputation one of the most experienced terrorist hunters in the United States military, took over from Adm. Eric T. Olson. Both admirals have extensive battle experience and are highly-decorated Navy SEALs.
McRaven has commanded at every level within special ops and he headed the Joint Special Operations Command, a subcommand overseeing the killing of Osama bin Laden, The Tampa Tribune.
The ceremony attended by Panetta and other dignitaries at MacDill Air Force Base outside Tampa came just three days after the crash of a Chinook helicopter in Afghanistan's Wardak province killed 38 people including 22 SEALs.
Panetta said the tragedy was a reminder we are a nation still at war.
"The entire world saw the precision and skill of our military in the operation that brought down bin Laden, but we know that these successes are driven by the willingness of these brave warriors to shoulder the burdens, to take on great risks. And as we all know, that comes oftentimes a very high cost."
"We will honor the fallen by showing the world our unyielding determination to press ahead, to move forward with the hard work that must be done to protect our country. As heavy a loss as this was, it would be even more tragic if we allowed it to derail this country from our efforts to defeat al-Qaida and deny them safe haven in Afghanistan," Panetta said.
"Mr. Secretary, I guarantee we will not let you down," McRaven said.