19 Unforgettable Quotes From Retiring General James 'Mad Dog' Mattis

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On Tuesday night, the Marine Corps announced via twitter General James N. Mattis’ plans for retirement this spring after four decades of service.Mattis, currently CENTCOM commanding general, is an icon of sorts in the Marine Corps, and arguably the most famous living Marine.

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Mattis himself dismissed rumours that he would be nominated to a post overseeing NATO if General John Allen wasn’t cleared of the Jill Kelley scandal. Yet the announcement of his retirement followed promptly after the exoneration of Allen.

There are various ideas floating around concerning his possible exodus from active duty — Tom Ricks seems to think Mattis is being forced out for asking tough questions about Iran, or for advocating a smaller global footprint for the U.S. military.

Regardless, the loss of Mattis would be a blow to the morale of the Corps. One Marine officer we spoke with agrees, saying “skilled company grade [officers] and NCOs with multiple deployments … said they would have decided to stay in based solely on the news of Gen Mattis’ appointment [as Commandant]. Love him or hate him, but that’s not nothing.”

It’s been a long road for Mattis, one in which the media often paints him as a cold-anesthetized killer. The reality is that he’s also a beloved leader, a thoughtful, sober strategist, and a caring father figure to every young service member he encounters.

An account by John R. Guardiano, a former Marine who not only met but conversed in depth with Mattis, sums up the general’s character best.

As published in The American Spectator:

Both the left and the right are wrong about Marine Corps Lt. Gen. James N. Mattis. He is neither the Jack Nicholson caricature of a Marine depicted in the 1992 movie A Few Good Men nor the callous and mad eccentric depicted by George C. Scott in the 1970 movie Patton.

And Gen. Mattis didn’t just talk the talk; he walked the walk. He led from the front. Indeed, on at least one occasion that I know of, the General was bloodied from a firefight or improvised explosive device while out on patrol with junior, enlisted Marines one-third his age. That’s what makes Gen. Mattis such a great warrior: He truly respects and cares for his Marines.

“Guardiano,” he told me, “I don’t give a damn about the officers. If they don’t like what they’re doing, they can get on a plane and leave the Corps — go back where they came from. But I do care deeply about those 18- and 19-year-old Lance Corporals out on the frontlines.”

We’ve gathered some of his best quotes, taken from this San Diego Union-Tribune profile, unless otherwise specified.

Mattis has often talked to Marine leaders about staying sharp.

The 'dream world' he alludes to is a reference to a complacent attitude -- one that can cost lives if troops aren't vigilant.

As a co-author of the military's counter-insurgency manual (with David Petraeus), Mattis has often spoke about following the rules of engagement and being disciplined among a ruthless enemy.

The General is confident in his abilities and that of his Marines -- he led the 1st Marine Expeditionary Brigade into Afghanistan in 2001, the 1st Marine Division into Iraq in 2003, and led an operation into Fallujah in 2004 dubbed 'Operation Vigilant Resolve', and helped to plan the later 'Operation Phantom Fury.'

One of his 'words to live by' for his Marines in Iraq, which was a call for his troops to remain vigilant and never let their guard down even in the company of those who seem friendly.

In a country where insurgents would blend into the local populace with ease, it was good advice.

Some Mattis quotes don't come without a degree of controversy, including this one.

Said while speaking about his time on the ground in Afghanistan, he was later counseled by his boss Gen. Hagee, who said 'he should have chosen his words more carefully.'

After the initial Iraq invasion, 'Chaos' (his radio callsign) sent home his tanks and artillery and used the 'carrot and the stick' with Iraqi tribal leaders.

Mattis demonstrates that he is willing to extend an olive branch to those on the fence -- but always carries the weight of Marine firepower if that doesn't work out.

Many Marines look up to Mattis as a cult-like figure. Nevertheless, he will most likely be remembered as a consummate professional.

A Marine officer we spoke with said, 'the more I learned about him, the more I saw that the things we were doing right seemed to be associated with his philosophy of command.'

As a highly-educated four-star General, Mattis probably can spell it, but he wants his Marines to know that they should never let it happen.

He often emphasises to his troops that they need to be problem solvers, only using firepower as a last result.

As a top General, we can safely assume that Mattis has had to sit through his fair share of awful PowerPoint briefings.

Mattis wants educated leaders that can be both book smart and be able to get the job done.

Mattis believes the battlefield is better off being far from American shores.

In places such as Iraq and Afghanistan, alliances can often shift quickly.

Mattis spoke to Congress on this point after a series of green-on-blue attacks that left military leaders struggling to deal with.

The General is a student of history and avid reader.

He often stresses the importance of education and training on building effective future leaders.

Before heading into Iraq in 2003, all Marines of the 1st Marine Division received a letter from General Mattis. In the letter, he spoke candidly to his troops, telling them that 'we will move swiftly and aggressively against those who resist, we will treat others with decency, demonstrating chivalry and soldierly compassion for people who have endured a lifetime under Saddam's oppression.'

This line from his 2003 letter to his Marines foreshadows his contribution in 2006 to counter-insurgency doctrine, which stresses battlefield discipline, and protection of the civilian populace.

Mattis uses 'never lost their nerve' in his 2003 letter to his men, utilising a line from the Marines' Hymn.

He goes on to offer another, telling them to 'keep your honour clean.' Mattis, an avid reader of history, wants his Marines to live up to the legacy of past warriors.

You've heard quotes from a Marine Corps icon ...

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