Defense Secretary General James Mattis was among U.S. leaders who spoke at the Pentagon Monday, gathered "to honor those 2,977 lives claimed by the brutal attacks of Sept. 11, 2001."
Mattis made his remarks alongside President Donald Trump and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph F. Dunford, Jr. during a ceremony in recognition of the 16th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks.
Mattis first reflected on the wide-reaching impacts of 9/11, commenting that "innocents who hailed from 90 nations and all walks of life" were attacked that day.
"We are here to honor those 2,977 lives claimed by the brutal attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Men and women awoke that day, never anticipating an attack on their place of work or against their country.
The defense secretary then reiterated the United States' commitment to fighting terror, a threat he said was to "all humankind."
"For while we had never asked for this fight, we are steadfastly committed to seeing it through as President Trump has made abundantly clear," Mattis said.
"Maniacs disguised in false religious garb thought by hurting us, they could scare us that day," Mattis continued. "But we Americans are not made of cotton candy. We are not seaweed drifting in the current. We are not intimidated by our enemies, and Mr. President, your military does not scare."
The Defense Secretary also reminded the American people of the sacrifices made by U.S. service members, and the sacrifices they will make in the future.
"Men and women of your armed forces, America, have signed a blank check to the protection of the American people and to the defense of our constitution. A check payable with their very lives," Mattis said. "Your military stands ready and confident to defend this country, this experiment in Democracy. And we will continue to do so using all means necessary, and as long as necessary."
Mattis concluded with a note of remembrance, reflecting on the four hijacked planes that were turned into deadly weapons.
"So today, we remember the loss of so many in New York City, in a somber field in Pennsylvania, and here in this very building behind me, and in many battles since, and some of those battles, still raging," Mattis said.
"As former Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld observed, on 9/11 every year we again are mindful and resolute that their deaths – like their lives – shall have meaning, and that is in how we carry forward our responsibility to protect America," Mattis said.
During his time on active duty, the Marine Corps general was a key leader in the War on Terror. In November 2001, as a brigadier general, Mattis commanded Task Force 58, the first Marine force to enter Afghanistan after 9/11. In 2003, Mattis was the commander of the 1st Marine Division, which pushed into Iraq as part of the initial invasion force.