Mad Dog Mattis. The Warrior Monk. Married to the Marine Corps.
It’s all hype that
embarrasses Gen. James Mattis, the chief of U.S. Central Command, who is
preparing to retire this spring after one of the most productive
four-decade sprints in uniform of his generation.
Marines, Mattis is Chaos, his call sign and nom de guerre. According to
interviews with more than a half-dozen officers who know him well,
Mattis is an iconoclast and innovator who strove to outmaneuver the
enemy on the battlefield, paralysis in Washington and the “yes, sir!”
culture of the military.
particularly civilians, consider the former Camp Pendleton-based
commander controversial or brutish, based on statements such as one
Mattis made in San Diego in 2005 when he proclaimed he liked brawling
and shooting some people — like the Taliban. “You go into Afghanistan,
you got guys who slap around women for five years because they didn’t
wear a veil. You know guys like that ain’t got no manhood left anyway,
so it’s a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them,” he said.
In person Mattis, 62, is
unimposing. He is rather short and slight of build. He speaks with a
lisp and rarely raises his voice. His blunt tough talk, however, and
indisputable aggressiveness in combat endear him to many Marines,
especially teenage infantrymen who volunteered during wartime to kill
bad guys. Mattis has been rebuked and told to choose his words more
carefully, but he never apologized or admitted any regrets — another
mark in his favor among the rank and file.
pugnacious soliloquies are said to be part of his brilliance as a
communicator and, some add, a useful contrivance to rally the troops.
Whether his audience is lance corporals heading into combat or sultans,
kings and presidents who control the passage or resources needed for his
mission, Mattis knows how to speak their language and enlist support.
Gen. Paul Kennedy served under Mattis in Iraq. Before the 2003
invasion, Mattis brought each battalion into the base auditorium to
brief them on how he wanted every last Marine to fight. Over and over
again, the same speech some 50 times. “Having a vision and beating that
thing flat as a cat on a highway, I think that is genius. Nobody has the
staying power to do that,” Kennedy said.
who led 1st Marine Division personnel into Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq
during the 1991 Gulf War as well as the 2003 invasion, is also
respected as a warrior statesman, compassionate commander and skilled
tactician who reshaped the way America goes to war during an era of
general has inspired a stream of fan mail from fellow Marines,
supplications from jailed young veterans, imprudent tattoos, passages in
history books, satirical online spoofs, even a television character.
legend is overwrought. Mattis is the first to say so. In a 2004 speech
to midshipmen at the Naval Academy that laid out the principles that
guided him through the inevitable moral crises of war, he said “I get a
lot of credit these days for things I never did.”
recent years he has given few press interviews or quotable speeches. In
his current job he must coax support from Middle Eastern allies who
don’t want to read about it in the newspaper. He is also a humble and
private guy, some say.
spoke with U-T San Diego to dispel some myths. But he otherwise
declined to comment for this article, saying he would prefer to
highlight “the contributions of the Marines you know well in southern
California, those who have conducted a significant amount of the
fighting and done a lot of bleeding in this long war.
get an awful lot of attention and there’s not too many generals on the
casualty list. The lads deserve the attention,” he added.
Mattis has never owned a
television. As a diligent scholar of his profession, he interviewed
active and retired commanders who had grappled with similar missions. He
studied everyone from the Spartans to the samurai and Comanche, drawing
from his personal library that once included more than 7,000 volumes
before he gave many to libraries and comrades. He is a lifelong bachelor
with no children, but wouldn’t move into a monastery unless it was
stocked with “beer and ladies.”
was passionate about leading Marines in combat and devoted to winning
at every assignment, but merely duty-bound to his succession of staff
jobs. He persevered for one reason, according to Marine Lt. Gen. John
Toolan: “He understands the threats. He understands history, and he
knows we must stay vigilant.”
Marine Col. Clarke Lethin, of Fallbrook, served as his chief of staff
when Mattis was commanding general of the 1st Marine Expeditionary
Force. “My fear is they are going to give him another job instead of
letting him retire. He deserves it. He has done more than enough for
this country,” Lethin said.
Mattis grew up in
southeastern Washington state. He was an acolyte in the Episcopal church
who admired Native American Indian culture and liked to run The Oregon
Trail. After college he was commissioned as a Marine in 1972.
a major, Mattis drew a difficult assignment — recruiting duty in
liberal Portland, Ore. Mattis quickly turned the station into a top
performer by cultivating relationships and winning the loyalty and hard
work of junior Marines.
about Mattis’ caring and deference to the lower ranks abound. As a
one-star general he dressed for guard duty, sword and all, one Christmas
at Quantico, Va., relieving a young lieutenant to spend the holiday
with his family.
Gen. John Broadmeadow accompanied Mattis on a tour of remote
checkpoints in northern Kuwait in the run-up to the Iraq invasion.
Mattis wanted to sound out the Marines on duty, so he had Broadmeadow,
then a lieutenant colonel, stand post for a half hour.
walked away from that talk with very junior Marines with some direct
tasks to his regimental commanders,” and the young Marines got a great
story to tell about the general, Broadmeadow said.
after Sept. 11, 2001, Mattis asked Lethin, whom he first met on
recruiting duty, to rejoin his staff and prepare for war. Lethin had
intended to retire before the terrorist attacks. Mattis wanted to be
sure Lethin’s wife Wendy and their young boys were onboard.
had a private talk with her describing what was in store, before her
husband knew where they were heading. “We are going to go to Afghanistan
and we’re going to kill those guys,” he told her, according to Lethin.
“This is going to be a long war and a lot of people are going to die.
Are you ready?”
Need for Speed
Mattis and then-Lt. Gen.
David Petraeus oversaw the genesis of the new Army and Marine Corps
counterinsurgency manual published in 2006. Mattis espoused a muscular
version of the doctrine in line with his philosophy of “no better
friend, no worse enemy.”
also stresses the need to move light and fast in battle. In 2001,
Mattis was put in command of a naval task force and had to figure out
how to transport two Marine expeditionary units into landlocked southern
solution included pushing his helicopter pilots some 400 miles until
their gas tanks almost ran dry, recalled Lt. Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, who
served in Task Force 58 as a colonel. “What we were being asked to do
in terms of the distances involved is something that had never been done
in the Marine Corps,” he said.
securing Camp Rhino, Mattis was gunning to go after Osama bin Laden in
Tora Bora. The Marines passed out cold weather gear but were called off
when Mattis couldn’t get permission to bring what he thought was enough
were stretched already after the amphibious raid into Kandahar, but
initiative and tempo is the heart of Mattis’ command philosophy. “He
understands how that tears away the enemy’s unit cohesion. That’s part
of the reason he’s got to drive his own troops sometimes, to make them
think above and beyond what they might think they are capable of,” so
they can overwhelm the enemy, Waldhauser said.
the 1st Marine Division prepared to lead the invasion into Iraq in
2003, Mattis predicted that they would quickly outstrip their logistics
support as they raced across the desert. He ordered his Marines to
attach racks to their vehicles to hang extra food, water and fuel and
pack gasoline test kits.
need for speed was a factor in his decision to sack the only senior
officer removed mid-battle during the invasion of Iraq, a colonel whose
regiment stalled in the face of unexpected resistance outside Nasiriyah.
next year in Al Anbar, Iraq, four contractors were murdered in Fallujah
shortly after Mattis and his Marines moved into the area. Their charred
bodies were hung from a bridge, prompting the military command to order
had planned for a more engaging approach than the soldiers they were
replacing. He was forced to lead his Marines into Fallujah prematurely
in his eyes, then to retreat because of political pressure.
it was a mistake to attack in the first place — and we believed it was —
then it was an even greater mistake to order the attack stopped so
close to victory, as a result of disinformation generated by insurgents
inside the city and the Arab press,” recalled retired Gen. James Conway,
the former commandant who was Mattis’ boss.
later when Mattis was gone and peace negotiations failed, the Marines
fought a second battle for Fallujah. Insurgents and hard-core jihadists
had flocked to the city and stockpiled weapons. Savage combat
practically leveled the city.
element of surprise had been lost. The result was over 90 Marines,
soldiers, and sailors giving their lives to the effort, and many more
wounded,” Conway said.
The rumor around the
Pentagon is Mattis may take over the NATO European command if the
nomination of Marine Gen. John Allen, outgoing commander of
international forces in Afghanistan, is scuttled. Allen is under
investigation because of allegedly flirtatious on-the-job emails with a
Tampa socialite who is not his wife. He has denied wrongdoing.
gig would be Mattis’ third as a four-star general, which is virtually
unheard of. Mattis said he thinks the rumor is wrong. Mattis expects to
relinquish his Central Command job in March and retire soon after from
the military, when he is medically cleared. But Mattis has the
confidence of some Democratic leaders, as well as Republicans, who may
yet tap him amid the reshuffle of defense and intelligence posts.
he does retire, Mattis plans to settle out West, where he appreciates
the free thinking and open landscape. Doing what, he doesn’t know yet.
Mattis has some good war stories to share with friends, but no plans to
write a book. The fine print may go with him to the grave.
Gen. James Mattis’ Words to Live By
by H. THOMAS HAYDEN on JANUARY 21, 2013
There is lots of press on the early retirement of Gen. James Mattis currently CENTCOM Commander.
For those who have never met Gen Jim Mattis, USMC, Commander Central
Command, he is a gentleman, scholar and a warrior. One of our best and
I first met Lt Col Jim Mattis at an exercise at Joint Task Force- Bravo, in Honduras, in the mid 1980s.
LtCol Mattis and I were supposed to be with a number of other I
Marine Expeditionary Force Marines playing the I MEF units during the
exercise – an invasion of Honduras by Nicaragua. I represent 1st Force
Service Support Group and LtCol Jim was one of the reps for 1st Marine
Division. Unfortunately y, the I MEF general staff guys had not showed
up and the exercise director came to all of us and asked if we would
fill the role as I MEF Hq. The senior Marine present said he had no
authority to do that but Jim Mattis and I said we would play the I MEF
roles. We did this for the week and enjoyed the exercise.
I got to know this outstanding Marine leader well. After I retired I
kept in touch with Jim but once he became the Commanding General,
1st Marine Division, I knew he was going to be busy and stopped our
e-mail exchanges. The San Diego, CA, UTSanDiego.com,
January 19, 2013, has an article by Gretel C. Kovach: “Just Don’t Call
Him Mad Dog: Influential Marine general prepares to retire after four
decades in uniform.”
The writer was referring to a number of sobriquets the general has
collected over the years. My favorite is “Warrior Monk.” Jim has never
been married. The extensive and detailed article is well worth looking
up on Google and reading in total.
Gretel Kovach had collected a number of Gen. Mattis’ quotes and below are my favorite:
Be no better friend, no worse enemy.
It’s fun to shoot some people.
The most important six inches on the battlefield is between your ears.
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.
Fight with a happy heart.
If in order to kill the enemy you have to kill an innocent, don¹t take the
shot. Don¹t create more enemies than you take out by some immoral act.
It¹s very hard to live with yourself if you dontt stick with your moral
If you have high expectations, if you can win the affection of your young
sailors or Marines, they will win all the battles for you.
Just get on with it, put in the miles and the weight-training and the study.
Some platoons are worth as much as a company, because of the social energy
of their leaders.
There is nothing better than getting shot at and missed. It¹s really great.
I don¹t lose any sleep at night over the potential for failure. I cannot
even spell the word.
I don¹t believe in demonizing the enemy. I don¹t patronize them either.
There are some people who think you have to hate them in order to shoot
them. I don¹t think you do. It's just business.
I spent 30 years getting ready for that decision that took 30 seconds.
come in peace. I didn¹t bring artillery. But I¹m pleading with you,
with tears in my eyes: If you f* with me, I'll kill you all.