The modern day legend, James “Mad Dog” Mattis; call sign ‘Chaos’, was born in Pullman, Washington on September 8, 1950. Mattis graduated from Columbia High School in Richland, Washington, in 1968 and enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1969. He later earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in history from Central Washington University and was commissioned a second lieutenant through ROTC on January 1, 1972. Mattis was considered an intellectual among the higher ranking officer, his personal library has more than seven thousand volumes. He was known to carry a copy of the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius on his deployments.
As a lieutenant, he served as a rifle and weapons platoon commander with 3rd Marine Division. As a captain, he was assigned as the Naval Academy Preparatory School’s Battalion Officer, commanded rifle and weapons companies with 1st Marine Regiment and then served as the commanding officer for Recruiting Station Portland, Oregon, as a major.
Upon promotion to lieutenant colonel, Mattis commanded 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, which was one of Task Force Ripper’s assault battalions during the Gulf War.
As a colonel, Mattis commanded 7th Marine Regiment and led the 1st Marine Expeditionary Brigade as its commanding officer upon promotion to brigadier general. During the initial planning for the War in Afghanistan, Mattis led Task Force 58 in operations in the southern part of Afghanistan, becoming the first Marine officer to ever command a Naval Task Force in combat.
While serving in Afghanistan as a brigadier general, he was known as an officer who engaged his marines with “real leadership”. Mattis was witnessed in a fighting hole talking with a sergeant and a lance corporal, in the freezing night, out on the front lines with his marines.
In 1998, the commandant, general Charles Krulak, was delivering cookies to every Marine duty post in Washington and Quantico on Christmas day. He made a delivery to the Marine Corps Combat Development Command headquarters and the Marine on duty said the officer of the day was lieutenant general Mattis. In disbelief he repeated the question several times, then he saw Mattis and asked him why he was on duty on Christmas.
Mattis said, “Sir, I looked at the duty roster for today and there was a young major who had it who is married and has a family; and so I’m a bachelor, I thought why should the major miss out on the fun of having Christmas with his family, and so I took the duty for him.” Krulak said he had never run into a general officer, before or after, who stood duty on Christmas Day.
As a major general, Mattis commanded the 1st Marine Division during the 2003 invasion of Iraq and subsequent stability operations during the Iraq War. Mattis played key roles in combat operations in Fallujah, including negotiation with the insurgent command inside of the city during Operation Vigilant Resolve in April 2004, as well as participation in planning of the subsequent Operation Phantom Fury in November.
In 2007, President George W. Bush nominated Mattis to the rank of general to command the U.S. Joint Forces Command in Norfolk, Virginia. In 2010, President Barack Obama nominated Mattis to replace David Petraeus as commander of the United States Central Command. However, the Obama administration thought Mattis was too eager for confrontation with Iran and he rubbed civilian officials the wrong way because he forced them to answer tough questions regarding Iran. This resulted in Obama forcing the beloved General Mattis to retire early, in 2013.
Mattis’ name kept appearing in conversations about the 2016 presidential election. His supporters hoped the four-star general would run for the Republican nomination. Then his name was being floated around as a possible option if the Republican convention was being contested. Supporters of Donald Trump were hoping that Trump might name Mattis as his vice president. Others were hopping Mattis would run as a third party candidate. He has stated that he wasn’t interested in being President because he didn’t have a broad enough perspective, and it was time for younger veterans to run for office.
Mattis’ long and distinguished military career didn’t leave much time for a personal life. He never married and has no children. His dedication to service and scholarly pursuits earned him the nickname “Warrior Monk.” He devoted his time to studying war, including being able to quote Sun Tzu, Ulysses S. Grant, George Patton, Shakespeare, and the Bible.
General Mattis is an inspirational leader of men and his powerful words will go down in history. Here are some of the best quotes that “Mad Dog” will be remembered for:
“I don’t lose any sleep at night over the potential for failure. I cannot even spell the word.”
“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.”
“I come in peace. I didn’t bring artillery. But I’m pleading with you, with tears in my eyes: If you fuck with me, I’ll kill you all.”
“Find the enemy that wants to end this experiment (in American democracy) and kill every one of them until they’re so sick of the killing that they leave us and our freedoms intact.”
“Marines don’t know how to spell the word defeat.”
“Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet.”
“The most important six inches on the battlefield is between your ears.”
“You are part of the world’s most feared and trusted force. Engage your brain before you engage your weapon.”
“There are hunters and there are victims. By your discipline, cunning, obedience and alertness, you will decide if you are a hunter or a victim.”
“No war is over until the enemy says it’s over. We may think it over, we may declare it over, but in fact, the enemy gets a vote.”
“There is nothing better than getting shot at and missed. It’s really great.”
“You cannot allow any of your people to avoid the brutal facts. If they start living in a dream world, it’s going to be bad.”
“You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap women around 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. Actually it’s quite fun to fight them, you know. It’s a hell of a hoot. It’s fun to shoot some people. I’ll be right up there with you. I like brawling.”
“I’m going to plead with you, do not cross us. Because if you do, the survivors will write about what we do here for 10,000 years.”
“Demonstrate to the world there is ‘No Better Friend, No Worse Enemy’ than a U.S. Marine.”
“Fight with a happy heart and strong spirit”
“Every time you wave at an Iraqi civilian, al-Qaeda rolls over in its grave.”
“The U.S. is suffering “strategic atrophy” under Obama’s leadership.”
“I’ve lived a very colorful life and I’ve said some things. But not once have I taken them back, and I’ve never apologized for them — and I won’t. I like the enemy knowing there are a few guys like me around.”
Since retirement, Mattis has worked for FWA Consultants and is an Annenberg Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the Hoover Institution. He also serves as a member the board of directors for General Dynamics and a board member of Theranos, a Silicon Valley biotech company. General Mattis was hand selected by President Donald Trump to become the 26th Secretary of Defense.
You can read more about General Mattis’ leadership in the book: The Mattis Way of War: An Examination of Operational Art in Task Force 58 and 1st Marine Division.