The Pentagon was mostly empty on Friday as Defense Department employees took off early for their Christmas vacations.
It was the end of a chaotic week that saw Defense Secretary James Mattis tender his resignation, reportedly due to President Donald Trump’s decision to abandon the Kurdish fighters that had destroyed most of ISIS in Syria.
Fox News correspondent Jennifer Griffin tweeted that resignations of more defense officials were likely, adding to the somber mood in the building.
Your friend and humble Pentagon correspondent asked around to see if anyone wanted to comment about Mattis leaving. No dice.
Condolences about Mattis’ resignation poured in from outside the building. Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats said he was “deeply saddened” that Mattis is leaving.
“In every aspect, Jim Mattis is a national treasure. He will be sorely missed,” Coats said in a statement. “Thank you, Jim, for your lifetime of service to our nation.”
As this reporter walked the E Ring to gauge the mood inside the building, none other than Mattis himself strode out of his office along with an aide.
Your humble correspondent began walking backwards to show there would be no attempt at an ambush interview. (This reporter’s ears are still ringing from the epic ass chewing that resulted when he once tried to ask then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld a question in the Pentagon hallways).
In typical Mattis fashion, the defense secretary joked that this reporter would hurt himself if he continued to back track.
In contrast to the gloom that has fallen on the Pentagon, Mattis was his usual ball of irrepressible energy. This is a man who works while the rest of the world is sleeping. The only sign that he feels fatigue are the bags under both of his eyes.
With great trepidation, your humble narrator wished Mattis a Merry Christmas. The defense secretary stopped near children’s letters to Santa Claus, which were strung on a nearby railing along with other Christmas decorations.
Mattis joked that this reporter should do a story about someone stealing the letters. We shook hands. His smile was so bright that it could be seen from orbit. And then he was off.
It was a moment of profound civility in Washington, D.C., where politeness is considered a weakness.
The Pentagon will be a lesser place without him.
Jeff Schogol covers the Pentagon for Task & Purpose. He has covered the military for 13 years and embedded with U.S. troops in Iraq and Haiti. Prior to joining T&P;, he covered the Marine Corps and Air Force at Military Times. Comments or thoughts to share? Send them to Jeff Schogol via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or direct message @JeffSchogol on Twitter.