One of the Marine Corps’ greatest legends is Gen. James Mattis, a hero many believe is cut from the same cloth as Lt. Gen. Lewis “Chesty” Puller and Maj. Gen. Smedley Butler.
Mattis has been popular with his men for his entire career — mostly for his willingness to share hardships and his outspoken and unwavering support of them.
Here are six times that he proved he is a true Marine’s Marine:
1. When he pulled duty for a junior officer on Christmas
In a famous story about Mattis that was confirmed by Stars and Stripes, “Mad Dog” once pulled Christmas Duty so that a married Marine officer could spend Christmas with his family.
Mattis didn’t tell anyone that he would be sacrificing his Christmas for a subordinate. He just showed up.
The commandant of the Marine Corps only learned about the event when he arrived to deliver Christmas cookies and found Mattis standing watch.
2. When he made a video teaching people what military leadership is aboutAfter his retirement, Mattis made a video with the Marine Corps that featured him answering questions. He tells a number of stories from his career, including the weight that he felt when he was ordered to withdraw his men from Fallujah and what makes Marines great.
He focuses on a few things that Marines can do every day to make themselves better warfighters, like reading and working out.
One of the greatest pieces of advice was that all Marines should treat every week like it’s their last week of peace. That will drive them to prepare for war and will accept no excuses from themselves.
3. When he led Task Force 58 through the invasion of Afghanistan
Mattis was tapped to lead Marine Task Force 58 during the invasion of Afghanistan. This team was originally tasked to conduct amphibious raids from the Pakistan coast into southern Afghanistan. But the mission was later expanded to include seizing a base, Camp Rhino, to use for operations.
Mattis assembled the team and led them through the initial invasion and follow-on operations, including a period where he employed his two Marine expeditionary units in a rotating fashion. While the 15th MEU was conducting a mission, the 26th would be preparing for the follow-on mission, and vice-versa.
4. When he blazed the trail to Baghdad
One of the most forward units during the invasion of Iraq in 2003 was the 1st Marine Division commanded by, you guessed it, Mattis. He later led the Marines through fighting in the Anbar province including the first two battles of Fallujah.
His quotes during this time became famous. Speaking of which …
5. When he gave us some of the best quotes in military history
… Mattis has given the world some of the best quotes in existence from the modern conflicts. Quotes like, “”I come in peace. I didn’t bring artillery. But I’m pleading with you, with tears in my eyes: If you f-ck with me, I’ll kill you all.”
One quote that will definitely resonate with veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, conflicts where U.S. troops are still engaged, is, “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.”
6. When he explained the importance of reading is to save the lives of young troops
The general has suggested a few different things that Marines should do to become better leaders, and reading is consistently at the top of his list. In an email to a colleague, he explained that the real reason he always wants his subordinate officers to read is because it saved blood on the battlefield.
The whole email is worth a read, but this excerpt — where he is discussing the lessons that Alexander the Great and others have written in books — sums it up:
We have been fighting on this planet for 5,000 years and we should take advantage of their experience. “Winging it” and filling body bags as we sort out what works reminds us of the moral dictates and the cost of incompetence in our profession. As commanders and staff officers, we are coaches and sentries for our units: how can we coach anything if we don’t know a hell of a lot more than just the [Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures]?