On Monday, General Mattis, Commander, U.S. Central Command, spoke to the Brigade of Midshipmen on leadership.
He began his speech by noting his surprise that anyone would invite him to speak publically after the wrong audience caught wind of some of his previous comments. I admired his ability to laugh at himself. He described how humor had helped him overcome some very non-humorous combat situations, calling humor “a bulletproof vest for the heart.”
In his speech, he constantly stressed integrity and resoluteness, labeling those qualities as the main difference between a man and a boy. Fighting an insurgency requires service-members to hold true to their morals when interacting with the local population. Gen. Mattis described one incident where an Iraqi working on a U.S. base in Fallujah was given two grenades by local insurgents. This Iraqi would be paid $300 for each grenade that went off in the compound. The Iraqi did not throw the grenades. Afterwards, he explained to the Marines that the day before, a young Marine stopped some local thugs from beating him up. Gen. Mattis used this example to illustrate how the morally right decision in combat saves lives.
The general also emphasized that units succeed or fail based on the unit’s leadership. His comments about the first time stepping out in front of your platoon or division resonated with the soon-to-graduate first-class midshipmen.
One civilian asked Gen. Mattis how he felt about the increasing civilian-military disconnect. He demonstrated the military’s improved relationship with the civilian world by contrasting the present relationship with the relationship in 1972, the year he became a Marine. Back then, the military leadership didn’t trust the civilian world, and vice-versa. Today, during Congressional hearings, Congressmen always thank military officers for their service, even though they may criticize those military officers during their testimonies.
He kept a surprisingly optimistic outlook on the proposed budget cuts. President Obama’s strategic shift towards the Pacific coupled with the $457 billion defense cuts means the Marines will downsize. Gen. Mattis said that while the Marines might do less, they will continue to maintain their high standards in training and in combat. I hope the latter part will be true of all the services.