Dissecting the Mattis-to-CENTCOM reaction

Gen. James Mattis, the presumed next commander of U.S. CENTCOM.

Gen. James Mattis, the presumed next commander of U.S. CENTCOM. (Associate Press photo)

It’s been about 24 hours since the Pentagon announced that Gen. James Mattis has been nominated to take over U.S. Central Command, and it has been met within the Marine Corps with the reaction most military observers expected.

In short, the typical Marine response: “Su-weet!”

There’s many reasons for that. Mattis, commander of the initial Marine invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, obviously has a track record as an innovative military thinker, but he’s also a leader who goes the extra mile for Marines in hostile environments.

An example: Far removed from day-to-day Marine operations, Mattis advocated behind the scenes for more potent rifle ammunition last year due to concerns about the stopping power of the standard 5.56mm M855 round used since the 1980s. He didn’t pull those concerns out of the air. Undoubtedly, he heard things he didn’t like directly from the grunt community.

I was in Afghanistan last month before Assistant Commandant Gen. James Amos was nominated to become the next Marine Corps commandant. At the time, most speculation over who would replace Gen. James Conway focused on Mattis and Lt. Gen. Joseph Dunford, the current commander of I Marine Expeditionary Force, out of Camp Pendleton, Calif. Nearly universally, junior enlisted Marines I spoke with were in favor of Mattis becoming CMC.

As one lance corporal put it: “Dude, I f—ing love that guy. He’s a WARRIOR.” The Marine had never met him.

If anything, that shows the level of respect that Mattis has in the Corps. With his occasionally salty language and straight talk, rank-and-file troops relate to him, even now, as he closes in on 60 years of age and the end of his career.

Undoubtedly, some U.S. senators will ask him to explain his infamous “It’s fun to shoot some people” comments in 2005, but that did little, if anything to hurt his credibility with Marines, especially when the full context of his remarks are considered. In fact, many are still fond of quoting another legendary Mattis comment, made in 2003 in a meeting with Iraqis: “I come in peace. I didn’t bring artillery. But I’m pleading with you, with tears in my eyes: If you f— with me, I’ll kill you all.” (Here are some of his most famous quotes.)

For what it’s worth, here’s reaction from some other military observers:

From Tom Ricks:

This is the best news I have heard in a long time. Just when I think Gates has lost his touch, he revives my faith by doing something like this. Readers of this blog will know that I think Mattis is terrific.

From Blackfive:

It is probably safe to say it’s unanimous here that we support the nomination of General Jim Mattis for command of Central Command.

We have many emails and accounts of General Mattis’ leadership during the battle of Fallujah.  He was the co-author of the COIN manual for the Marines and the Army.  He is the warrior monk.

  From Poliquicks:

There is no more brilliant or capable general officer that Jim Mattis. He has made a life time study of the art of war. Name a battle and he will quote you chapter and verse of its history.

He’s not a yes man and the appointment is kind of a surprise.

Gates has his moments.

Those are three distinctive blogs, and their authors frequently don’t see eye-to-eye. In this case, however, simpatico.


About Author

I'm a senior writer with Marine Corps Times, covering ground warfare, manpower, weapons acquisition and other beats. I embedded in Afghanistan in spring 2010, and plan to return at least once in 2011.


  1. Pingback: Battle Rattle - A Marine Corps Times Blog – Gen. James Mattis, hanging out in an Afghanistan fighting hole

Leave A Reply