Want To Know How Mattis Got The Callsign 'Chaos'? Here's The Story

History
DoD

James. Jim, sure. Jimbo, maybe. Mad Dog, never. "Chaos," always.


But why?

For years, it's been widely reported, often by the man himself, that retired Marine general and Secretary of Defense James Mattis has only one really acceptable nickname, the callsign that followed him through the service: chaos. But what about the affably blunt Pacific Northwest fly-fisherman and paternal, profane battlefield marshal suggests disorder and entropy? What possible explanation can a nickname like that have?

Reader, wonder no more. Marine Corps Times' Mackenzie Wolf reports that during Mattis' keynote speech at the Air Force Association's Air, Space and Cyber conference on Sept. 20, someone in the crowd asked about the "Mad Dog" moniker, which he brushed off as a media concoction. But in answering, Mattis decided to talk about the "Chaos" callsign.

DOD photo/Air Force Tech. Sgt. Brigitte N. Brantley

"I must confess how I got that name," Mattis started. Then he proceeded to tell a story about some very clever Marines who served under him:

When the call sign originated, the then-colonel was a regimental commander in Twentynine Palms where, according to Mattis, “there’s nothing to do but go blow up the desert.” As he was leaving his operations office, he noticed the word “Chaos” written on the operations officer’s whiteboard.

“I said, ‘What’s this about?’ I’m curious, you know. We all are. He says ‘oh you don’t need to know that,’” which only further piqued curiosity.

“Finally, he kinda said, ‘Well it means the colonel has an outstanding solution,’ and it was very much tongue in cheek, ladies and gentlemen. They didn’t consider all my solutions quite as outstanding as I enthusiastically promoted them,” said Mattis.

Marines: Never, never, never underestimate the cynical creativity of your S3. That's alright: Mattis looks like he was a good-natured, if stiff, fellow in those long-ago days.

Pearl Harbor survivor Lauren Bruner attends the dual interment of fellow USS Arizona survivors John D. Anderson, boatswain's mate 2nd class, and Clarendon R. Hetrick, seaman 1st class, at the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, as part of the 75th anniversary of the attacks on Pearl Harbor. (U.S. Navy/Petty Officer 2nd Class Somers Steelman)

Just before 8 a.m. on a Sunday morning 78 years ago, Lauren Bruner was preparing for church services and a date that would follow with a girl he'd met outside his Navy base.

The 21-year-old sailor was stationed as a fire controlman aboard the U.S. battleship USS Arizona, overseeing the vessel's .50-caliber guns.

Then alarms rang out. A Japanese plane had bombed the ship in a surprise attack.

It took only nine minutes for the Arizona to sink after the first bomb hit. Bruner was struck by gunfire while trying to flee the inferno that consumed the ship, the second-to-last man to escape the explosion that killed 1,177, including his best friend; 335 survived.

More than 70% of Bruner's body was burned. He was hospitalized for weeks.

Now, nearly eight decades after that fateful day, Bruner's ashes will be delivered to the sea that cradled his fallen comrades, stored in an urn inside the battleship's wreckage.

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