How To Work A Room Like Badass 4-Star Marine General 'Mad Dog' Mattis

Gen. James Mattis

Photo: Robert Johnson — Business Insider

It’s difficult to explain the power and presence of a General. Not the one, two, or even three star varieties pounding around the world, overseeing bases, troops, and maneuvers, but a full-blown 4-Star Flag Officer.Meet “Mad Dog” Mattis >

A flag officer is someone who’s high ranking enough to fly a flag of his or her own above an area of command and can apply to any branch of service, but almost always to someone with at least one star on their uniform.

There are only 38 4-stars floating about the five branches of the U.S. military and the ones holding positions of prominence and prestige are the closest thing to celebrities the military allows. 

So when our Navy point of contact in Bahrain stepped in to where the media were waiting for its helicopter ride to the USS Ponce, and said General James “Mad Dog” Mattis was suddenly slated to be aboard, the room picked up an energy it’d been lacking in the heat and delay just a moment before.

“The Marines on the ground look at Mattis like a superhero,” former Marine and BI writer Geoffrey says. “They love him.”

Aside from his reputation and prodigious military accomplishments starting when he entered the Marines in 1972, General Mattis may best be known for his high-flying colour and affection for quotes most Americans haven’t heard since John Wayne quit the silver screen.

My personal favourite Mattis quote may be this line he laid down during a meeting with Iraqi military officers in 2003 after sending tanks and artillery home: “I come in peace,” he told them. “I didn’t bring artillery. But I’m pleading with you, with tears in my eyes: If you fuck with me, I’ll kill you all.”

General Mattis commands U.S. Central Command, which includes the Middle East, North Africa, and Central Asia — and all of the Persian Gulf. So when Iran comes up in the news it’s Gen. Mattis’ business, and this week his business was important enough for him to leave his Tampa, FL HQ and fly into the Gulf for the mine sweeping exercise.

About 20 or so of us landed on the Ponce in an MH-53 helicopter, about 80 miles off the coast of Iran, and our first stop was the mine exercise command centre where we waited for General Mattis.

Explaining the presence of a general is tough, so I put together this set of photographs to show what it was like waiting for General Mattis to arrive.

I mean no disrespect, we didn’t wait that long and the man commanded the room like no one else. While I took these shots I thought of another rule Mattis drilled into his Marines when they arrived in Iraq in 2003: “Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet.”

The first thing you want to do as a 4-star is fill up the room with junior officers and members of the international press

Make sure there are some senior officers, but from other navies, like the British to pose in front of maps and make pointing gestures for the TV cameras

Try to maintain the crowd's patience through cool video feeds of the fleet's location

Until even upper level civilians in the back of the room are checking their watch at the wait

Then just before impatience turns into annoyance, burst into the room with an entourage of about 12 other officers, including the ship's captain

As a 4-star you want to stop and connect with the troops in your command, exchange a quick line or two while the press goes crazy trying get pictures and video

As a 4-star you stop within sight of the lenses and ask a visiting sailor how he's doing, he jumps up all smiles and nerves, and you'll shake his hand before moving on

You'll ask a young British sailor how he's doing out here, and if everything is OK ? laugh with him a moment before shaking his hand and moving on

As a 4-star you know the impression of awe and privilege you've left behind

Then you stop and address the room as a whole and thank everyone for coming

As a 4-star you answer some questions and make knife-hand gestures to convey the seriousness with which you're responding

As a 4-star you expect the laughs and as they fade away, you make one-on-one small talk while you make for the exit

Leaving behind the ranking British official to field all the questions that remain unanswered

General Mattis came to the Gulf to check out the ship responsible fort the mine clearing exercise >

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