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Marines love Gen. James Mattis, and with good reason. He’s a Marine’s Marine, which means he always speaks his mind.
A former enlisted Marine who entered the Corps in 1969, Mattis received his commission as an infantry officer in 1972. He served in the Persian Gulf War, where he commanded 1st Battalion, 7th Marines. Mattis led Task Force 58 into southern Afghanistan at the onset of the war. In Iraq, he commanded troops during the first and second Battles of Fallujah, and alongside now-retired Army Gen. David Petraeus, oversaw the development of the Army and Marine Corps counterinsurgency doctrine that would come to define and shape both wars.
In 2013 Mattis left his post as commanding general of United States Central Command and retired from the Marine Corps after 44 years of service.
Widely admired for his keen intellect and fairness — Mattis has been referred to as the “Warrior Monk” — his frankness has endeared him to post-9/11 Marines and veterans, with whom he holds an almost legendary cult-status. Many modern military veterans, like this author, can recall seeing his quotes — often referred to as“Mattis-isms” — on the walls at MOS school, in the hallways of headquarters buildings, or piling up in Facebook newsfeeds as memes.
Here are Task & Purpose’s five favorite quotes from one of the Corps’ most respected living legends.
“Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet."
Taken from a speech Mattis gave to his Marines when they arrived in Iraq in 2003, these are words to live by in an asymmetrical battlespace, where enemy combatants attack without warning before blending back in with the local populace.
Lt. Gen. James Mattis, the commander of U.S. Marine Corps Forces Central Command, talks to Marines from Marine Wing Support Group 27, May 6, 2007.U.S. Marine Corps photo
"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."
After the initial invasion of Iraq, Mattis met with Iraqi military officers in 2003 and delivered these cautionary words — his own take on “big stick policy.”
“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.”
While speaking to Marines at Al Asad Airbase in Iraq, Mattis encouraged them in his typical fashion to stay sharp and carry on their mission. The quote first appeared in print in Thomas E. Ricks’ book “Fiasco: American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2003 to 2005.”
"Marines don't know how to spell the word defeat."
Though the origin of this particular adage is unclear, it’s probably one of the most popular Mattis-isms out there. It has also lent credence to the long-standing joke that Marines are too dumb to spell defeat. We’re not. The word just isn’t in our vocabulary.
"You are part of the world's most feared and trusted force. Engage your brain before you engage your weapon."
Mattis wrote this letter and had it delivered to each of his Marines on March 19, 2003, one day before the initial invasion of Iraq. In addition to providing words of encouragement, Mattis implored his men to remember who they are, where they come from, and the branch they belong to.
A Minnesota Army National Guard UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter with three Guardsmen aboard crashed south of St. Cloud on Thursday, said National Guard spokeswoman Army Master Sgt. Blair Heusdens.
At this time, the National Guard is not releasing any information about the status of the three people aboard the helicopter, Heusdens told Task & Purpose on Thursday.
The Pentagon's latest attempt to twist itself in knots to deny that it is considering sending up to 14,000 troops to the Middle East has a big caveat.
Pentagon spokeswoman Alyssa Farah said there are no plans to send that many troops to the region "at this time."
Farah's statement does not rule out the possibility that the Defense Department could initially announce a smaller deployment to the region and subsequently announce that more troops are headed downrange.
The Navy could deploy a second carrier to the Middle East if Trump orders an Iran surge, top admiral says
The Navy could send a second aircraft carrier to the Middle East if President Donald Trump orders a surge of forces to the region, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday said on Thursday.
Gordon Lubold and Nancy Youssef of the Wall Street Journal first reported the United States is considering sending up to 14,000 troops to the Middle East to deter Iran from attacking U.S. forces and regional allies. The surge forces could include several ships.
I didn't think a movie about World War I would, or even could, remind me of Afghanistan.
Somehow 1917 did, and that's probably the highest praise I can give Sam Mendes' newest war drama: It took a century-old conflict and made it relatable.
An internal investigation spurred by a nude photo scandal shows just how deep sexism runs in the Marine Corps
"I will still have to work harder to get the perception away from peers and seniors that women can't do the job."
Some years ago, a 20-year-old female Marine, a military police officer, was working at a guard shack screening service members and civilians before they entered the base. As a lance corporal, she was new to the job and the duty station, her first in the Marine Corps.
At some point during her shift, a male sergeant on duty drove up. Get in the car, he said, the platoon sergeant needs to see you. She opened the door and got in, believing she was headed to see the enlisted supervisor of her platoon.
Instead, the sergeant drove her to a dark, wooded area on base. It was deserted, no other Marines were around. "Hey, I want a blowjob," the sergeant told her.
"What am I supposed, what do you do as a lance corporal?" she would later recall. "I'm 20 years old ... I'm new at this. You're the only leadership I've ever known, and this is what happens."
She looked at him, then got out of the car and walked away. The sergeant drove up next to her and tried to play it off as a prank. "I'm just fucking with you," he said. "It's not a big deal."
It was one story among hundreds of others shared by Marines for a study initiated in July 2017 by the Marine Corps Center for Advanced Operational Culture Learning (CAOCL). Finalized in March 2018, the center's report was quietly published to its website in September 2019 with little fanfare.
The culture of the Marine Corps is ripe for analysis. A 2015 Rand Corporation study found that women felt far more isolated among men in the Corps, while the Pentagon's Office of People Analytics noted in 2018 that female Marines rated hostility toward them as "significantly higher" than their male counterparts.
But the center's report, Marines' Perspectives on Various Aspects of Marine Corps Organizational Culture, offers a proverbial wakeup call to leaders, particularly when paired alongside previous studies, since it was commissioned by the Marine Corps itself in the wake of a nude photo sharing scandal that rocked the service in 2017.
The scandal, researchers found, was merely a symptom of a much larger problem.