Secretary of Defense James Mattis opens up with war stories to troops in the field under little media scrutiny, the Associated Press reports.
The AP accompanied Mattis on several trips by the defense secretary abroad witnessing him dispense stories from his nearly 40 years in uniform as a U.S. Marine. “My name is Mattis, and I work at the Department of Defense,” the secretary reportedly said, introducing himself to Marines stationed at naval station Guantanamo Bay.
Mattis recounted a time he was hiking in the Sierra Nevada mountains when he was suddenly called upon:
He recalled how he was hiking with his Marines in the Sierra Nevadas in August 1990 when he got word to report with his men to the nearest civilian airport. Iraq’s Saddam Hussein had just invaded Kuwait, and the Marines were needed to hold the line in Saudi Arabia.
In another cruel twist, the defense secretary told troops this memory:
Mattis recalled sitting in the back of a room at the Pentagon in June 2001 while senior political appointees of the new George W. Bush administration fired questions at a military briefer about where they should expect to see the most worrisome security threats. At one point, Mattis said, the briefer said confidently that amid all the uncertainty, the one place the U.S. definitely would not be fighting was Afghanistan.
“Five and a half months later, I was shivering in Afghanistan,” Mattis said
Mattis’ visits with the troops have garnered significant media attention during his nearly one year on the job. He was recorded by a service-member on one such visit giving advice and thanking them for their service. “The only way this great big experiment you and I call America is going to survive is we got tough hombres like you,” he said, adding, “Just hold the line until our country gets back to understanding and respecting each other and showing it of being friendly to one another, you know, that Americans owe to one other. We’re so doggone lucky to be Americans.”
The secretary closed out his comments with a bit of self-humor, saying, “The only reason why I came back off, I flunked retirement, okay, the only reason why I came back was to serve alongside young people like you who are so selfless and frankly so rambunctious. It’s a pleasure to be around you all.”