There are lots of stories about the leadership style of Marine Corps General and now Secretary of Defense James Mattis. He recently made news again as he rescinded a career-ending Letter of Reprimand for a junior officer involved in the ambush of an Army Special Forces ODA in Niger last October.  Secretary Mattis has a long reputation for treating junior officers with great kindness. What follows is a story told by Dr. Albert C. Pierce, the Director of the Center for the Study of Professional Military Ethics at The United States Naval Academy, who was introducing then General Mattis at a lecture in 2006. This story was told on the Texas Devil Dog Blog.

At the time, General Krulak was Commandant of the Marine Corps and his habit was to bake cookies on Christmas Eve, and starting at 0400hrs on Christmas morning, to visit each Marine Corps base in the Northern Virginia, Baltimore, Annapolis, and DC areas and deliver them to the Marines guarding the gates on that day. On this particular Christmas morning Gen. Krulak stopped at the gate of Marine Corps Base Quantico, in Virginia.  Going inside the command center, Krulak handed a package of cookies to the Lance Corporal manning the desk and asked who the Officer of the Day was that morning.  The Lance Corporal, no doubt startled to be addressing the Commandant of the Marine Corps, managed to say, “Sir, it is Brigadier General Mattis.”

Thinking the young Lance Corporal had misunderstood his question Gen. Krulak went on, “No, no, no. I know who General Mattis is. I mean, who’s the Officer of the Day today, Christmas day?”

And the Lance Corporal now even more anxious at the prospect of arguing with the Commandant restated, “Sir, it is Brigadier General Mattis.”

Gen. Krulak now believed the Lance Corporal standing at attention before him was hopelessly vapor locked and misunderstanding him, and then he noticed the day room close by with a bunk that would be occupied by the Officer of the Day and made one more attempt to break through the fog.

“No, Lance Corporal. Who slept in that bed last night?”  he said pointing at the day room.  And again the Lance Corporal answered, “Sir, it was Brigadier General Mattis.”

Just about then, General Mattis walked into the command center in the uniform of the day, wearing a duty belt and even his sword as befitting his rank.  An astonished General Krulak asked him, “Jim what are you doing here today? Why do you have the duty?” General Mattis explained that looking at the duty roster he noticed that the young officer scheduled to act as Officer of the Day on that Christmas morning had a family with young children so he had replaced him and had taken the post himself.

A Brigadier General manning the gate post on Christmas Day.

The spirit of Christmas is very much about doing things for those you love and care for,   So from all of us here at The NEWSREP, a Mattis Christmas to all and to all a good night.