He commanded the first Marines to take the fight home to al Qaeda and the Taliban after 9/11. The first conventional U.S. troops into Afghanistan, these Marines made their way to Kandahar on the longest ship-to-shore assault in American history.
He led the storied First Marine Division on its march up Mesopotamia in 2003, shattering a much larger Iraqi force that was dug in to defend the approaches to Baghdad.* By this point, he had adopted the radio call-sign, "Chaos."
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He was still in command of the division during the First Battle of Fallujah, in the spring of 2004—a fight sparked by the hanging of the charred bodies of four American contractors from one of that city’s bridges. Prior to the battle, he changed the standing order for Marines regarding insurgents from "Capture or Kill" to "Kill or Capture."
As it became clear that the war in Iraq was a different kind of fight, he was a leader in the push to introduce counterinsurgency and "small wars" tactics to a post-Cold War force—tactics that helped turn the fight in Iraq around during the 2007 surge.
At the summit of his military career, he led Centcom—the military command responsible for the Middle East. After disagreements with the Obama administration about how tough to be on Iran (you can guess which side he was on) the White House undermined his authority by announcing his replacement months ahead of schedule.
General James N. Mattis has been named by President-elect Trump as his pick to lead the Pentagon, and this is great news for America.
It is also a sign of Trump’s confidence. Mattis is known for his integrity and habit of speaking plainly—something that has long thrilled the troops and troubled more sensitive souls. His reputation as a fighter aside, he is widely respected as a strategic thinker and a scholar of history and politics. (There are few men who could earn the nickname "Mad Dog" while also being referred to—frequently and unironically—as a "warrior monk.") He is skeptical of social policies that stand to make the military a less effective killing force, and a believer in the importance of American leadership in the world. He is a loyal patriot, but very much his own man.
Already at the Pentagon is the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine General Joe Dunford. As a colonel, Dunford commanded one of Mattis’ regiments in the invasion of Iraq and beyond, and is himself widely respected as an officer of great intelligence and integrity.
To call the pairing a "dream team" is an understatement.
During the campaign, Trump frequently said that he wanted "the best people." It looks like he meant it.
*The U.S. Army was also present.