Mattis Declines To Suck Up To Trump, Praises Troops Instead

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis speaks during a White House cabinet meeting on June 12.
Screen grab via White House video

President Donald Trump held a cabinet meeting at the White House on June 12, the first to include all of the heads of the executive branch agencies. Surrounded by reporters, the president began the meeting by enumerating the various ways his administration has “achieved tremendous success” in its first five months and lauding his assembled senior advisors.

“I choose each person at this table, and I chose them, not only because of their remarkable experience and success, but because they’ve all united by one shared goal,” Trump said. “What they want to do is one very simple, but very beautiful goal: serving and defending our beautiful nation.”   

The leader of the free world followed by revealing the very beautiful goal of the meeting: to applaud his administration.

Trump asked each of his cabinet members to introduce themselves starting with Vice President Mike Pence, who set the tone of the meeting by showering the president in praise: “It’s the greatest privilege of my life to serve as vice president to a president who is keeping his word to the American people, and assembling a team that is bringing real change, real prosperity, and real strength back to our nation.”

Most of the other senior cabinet members followed suit, taking turns thanking the president for the chance to serve in his administration and stroking his ego.

“On behalf of the entire senior staff around you, Mr. President, we thank you for the opportunity and the blessing that you given us to serve your agenda and the American people,” said Reince Priebus, the White House chief of staff, “and we’re continuing to work very hard every day to accomplish those goals.”   

“Mr. President, what an incredible honor it is to lead the Department of Health and Human Services at this time under your leadership,” said  Tom Price, the agency’s head.

And then there was Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, who threw cold water on Trump’s executive love-fest.

“Mr. President, it’s an honor to represent the men and women of the Department of Defense,” he said. “We are grateful for the sacrifices our people are making in order to strengthen our military, so our diplomats always negotiate from a position of strength.”

Mattis, a retired four-star Marine Corps general, has remained staunchly apolitical since assuming the position to the relief of critics of the administration, who are troubled by the president’s emphasis on loyalty amid the ongoing investigation into ties between some of Trump’s senior associates and the Russian government.

Of course, it’s impossible to say whether or not Mattis’ omission of any praise for the president was intentional, but it seems to align with remarks he made in a commencement address last month at West Point, during which he stressed the need for service members to remain politically neutral.

“So long as our nation breeds patriots like you, defenders who look past the political rhetoric of our day and rally to our flag, that Army tradition of serving our country will never die,” Mattis told the graduating cadets.

“We in the Department of Defense recognize that there are a lot of passions running about in this country, as there ought to be in a vibrant republic,” he added. “But for those privileged to wear the cloth of our nation, to serve in the United States Army, you stand the ramparts, unapologetic, apolitical, defending our experiment in self-governance, you hold the line.”

My brother earned the Medal of Honor for saving countless lives — but only after he was left for dead

"As I learned while researching a book about John, the SEAL ground commander, Cmdr. Tim Szymanski, had stupidly and with great hubris insisted on insertion being that night."


Editor's Note: The following is an op-ed. The opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Task & Purpose.

Air Force Master Sgt. John "Chappy" Chapman is my brother. As one of an elite group, Air Force Combat Control — the deadliest and most badass band of brothers to walk a battlefield — John gave his life on March 4, 2002 for brothers he never knew.

They were the brave men who comprised a Quick Reaction Force (QRF) that had been called in to rescue the SEAL Team 6 team (Mako-30) with whom he had been embedded, which left him behind on Takur Ghar, a desolate mountain in Afghanistan that topped out at over 10,000 feet.

As I learned while researching a book about John, the SEAL ground commander, Cmdr. Tim Szymanski, had stupidly and with great hubris insisted on insertion being that night. After many delays, the mission should and could have been pushed one day, but Szymanski ordered the team to proceed as planned, and Britt "Slab" Slabinski, John's team leader, fell into step after another SEAL team refused the mission.

But the "plan" went even more south when they made the rookie move to insert directly atop the mountain — right into the hands of the bad guys they knew were there.

Read More Show Less

Conflict photographer Lynsey Addario's seen a hell of a lot of combat over the past twenty years. She patrolled Afghanistan's Helmand Province with the Marines, accompanied the Army on night raids in Baghdad, took artillery fire with rebel fighters in Libya and has taken photos in countless other wars and humanitarian disasters around the world.

Along the way, Addario captured images of plenty of women serving with pride in uniform, not only in the U.S. armed forces, but also on the battlefields of Syria, Colombia, South Sudan and Israel. Her photographs are the subject of a new article in the November 2019 special issue of National Geographic, "Women: A Century of Change," the magazine's first-ever edition written and photographed exclusively by women.

The photos showcase the wide range of goals and ideals for which these women took up arms. Addario's work includes captivating vignettes of a seasoned guerrilla fighter in the jungles of Colombia; a team of Israeli military police patrolling the streets of Jerusalem; and a unit of Kurdish women guarding ISIS refugees in Syria. Some fight to prove themselves, others seek to ignite social change in their home country, and others do it to liberate other women from the grip of ISIS.

Addario visited several active war zones for the piece, but she found herself shaken by something much closer to home: the Marine Corps Recruit Depot at Parris Island, South Carolina.

Addario discussed her visit to boot camp and her other travels in an interview with Task & Purpose, which has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Read More Show Less

An Army staff sergeant who "represents the very best of the 101st Airborne Division" has finally received a Silver Star for his heroic actions during the Battle of the Bulge after a 75-year delay.

On Sunday, Staff Sgt. Edmund "Eddie" Sternot was posthumously awarded with a Silver Star for his heroics while leading a machine gun team in the Ardennes Forest. The award, along with Sternot's Bronze Star and Purple Heart, was presented to his only living relative, Sternot's first cousin, 80-year-old Delores Sternot.

Read More Show Less

U.S. special operations forces are currently field testing a lightweight combat armor designed to cover more of an operator's body than previous protective gear, an official told Task & Purpose.

The armor, called the Lightweight Polyethylene (PE) Armor for Extremity Protection, is one of a handful of subsystems to come out of U.S. Special Operations Command's Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit (TALOS) effort that media outlets dubbed the "Iron Man suit," Navy Lieutenant Cmdr. Tim Hawkins, a SOCOM spokesman, told Task & Purpose on Wednesday.

Read More Show Less