General James Mattis, President Trump's Secretary of Defense

The "Mad-Dog" Mattis Story

General Mattis
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President Trump's Secretary of Defense is General James Mattis.  Who is James Mattis?

About General Mattis

General “Mad-Dog” James Mattis is known as the “warrior monk” as an intellectual leader of Marines who is also unmarried throughout his 44-year career. General Mattis enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1969 at 19 years old. Three years later he graduated Central Washington University and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in 1971. He retired as a four-star general after commanding Central Command from 2010-2013. 

A Legal Snag for Mattis as SecDef

President Trump’s Department of Defense appointment has issues that must be dealt with in the Congress. General Mattis will need a waiver from the law that requires retired military members from joining the cabinet, specifically the Department of Defense. Mattis retired in 2013 and the federal law ( National Security Act of 1947) dictates that to serve as Secretary of Defense, a person must be a civilian for seven years. The waiver has only been used once in history after World War Two. President Truman requested a waiver for then General Marshall to become the Secretary of Defense.

It is easily approved by Congress. This is the only precedent and with a Republican majority, it was easily passed and not be an issue when the Trump Presidency began in January 2017.

44-Year Career of General Mattis in the USMC

Throughout his career, he was regarded as a polished intellectual who was held in high regard by his Marines. During the Persian Gulf War in 1990-91, he commanded the First Battalion — 7th Marines as a Lieutenant Colonel. He later commanded the Seventh Regiment as a colonel and as Brigadier General was tasked with Task Force 58, a Naval Special Operations Combat unit in the early months of the Afghanistan War. He later commanded the First Marine Regiment upon the invasion of Iraq in 2003. He further led the Marines in counterinsurgency throughout Iraq as well as such cities as Fallujah.

He later commanded the Marine Corps Combat Development Command, Joint Forces Command, and the US Central Command as a three and four-star respectively.

Memorable Quotes

To say General Mattis has memorable quotes is an understatement. Often regarded differently among his troops and his peers and politicians, General Mattis quotes strike a different chord depending on who you are. General Mattis quotes have made him a hero with his fellow Marines and famous on social media in the form of highly viewed pro-military memes produced by many veterans who originally sought to get Mattis to run for President. Here are the top three most shared quotes by General Mattis:

  • "Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet."
  • “The first time you blow someone away is not an insignificant event. That said, there are some assholes in the world that just need to be shot.”
  • “You are part of the world’s most feared and trusted force. Engage your brain before you engage your weapon.”

What Kind of Person Is General Mattis?

According to Dr. Albert Pierce, Director of the Center for the Study of Professional Military Ethics at the United States Naval Academy, General Mattis was introduced prior to a lecture in 2006 on the topic of Ethical Challenges in Contemporary Conflict. A short story was told about when the Commandant of the Marine Corps General Krulak found the Brigadier General Mattis standing guard duty at Quantico Marine Base for the young Captain duty officer on Christmas day. When asked by the Commandant, “Jim, what are you doing here?” General Mattis told him the young officer scheduled on Christmas day had a family and wanted his soldier to spend Christmas Day with his family.

General Krulak said, “That’s the kind of officer that Jim Mattis is.” (from the notes of transcripts of the introduction of General Mattis’ presentation by Dr. Pierce)

Fatal Error or Cautious Foresight by General Mattis

Army Special Forces in Afghanistan in the early years of the war (2001) ODA 574 experienced what was seen by many in the Special Operations community as a fatal error by General Mattis. On a mission to escort the future President of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai and his Pashtun militia members by supplying precision air strikes against the Taliban, a 500lb bomb strayed too close to the unit and gravely injured several Special Forces members and Pashtun fighters. 

Master Sergeant Jefferson Davis, Sergeant First Class Daniel Petithory, and Staff Sergeant Brian Prosser died that day. At the time of the first request, there was only one KIA Special Forces soldier.

General Mattis defense was that a daylight rescue would require fighters or gunship support or wait until nightfall. Being a student of military battles, reading the after-action reports of the Battle of Mogadishu in 1993 might have been one of the reasons he wanted to wait for air superiority or the cover of nightfall. In fairness, two rescue operations (Operation Red Wings and Extortion 17) in which the most SEALs and Army Aviators/other Special Ops members were killed (54) in SEAL Team history occurred in Afghanistan a few years later.

That decision will be debated by military personnel and strategists for years to come.