Secretary of Defense James Mattis appeared on CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday, where he discussed the military’s ability to bridge social and political differences between service members; and in what serves as a reminder of what first propelled Mattis to star-like popularity among Marines, he even answered a question about what keeps him up at night.

“What keeps you awake at night?” CBS reporter John Dickerson asked the famed Marine General turned Defense Secretary.

“Nothing,” he responded as plainly as he might recount a grocery list.  “I keep other people awake at night.”

It’s that very mentality, and Mattis’ combination of compassionate honor, fervor for academics, and willingness to be the very trigger puller that protects our nation from its enemies that have garnered him support from both sides of the political aisle; no small accomplishment in today’s world.  On the same day, 8th graders on a school trip to Washington D.C. refused to take a picture of Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan because of his political leanings – in a clear example of the larger team-centric mentality pervading contemporary politics.

For Mattis, the way America’s service members largely avoid falling into competitive camps based on ideology or politics is among the list of things that make our military great.

“These people come together with an enthusiasm for protecting this experiment in democracy that we call America,” he said. “And it takes people, I believe, with a fundamental respect for one another, with a fundamental friendliness toward one another, that I worry is starting to slip away in our country.”

“It’s a diverse force, it’s a force that can work together under the worst conditions,” Mattis explained. “I just hope we can find our way back to engaging with one another, arguing strongly with one another, and then going down and having a root beer together or something, and having a good laugh about it as we work together for the best interests of the next generation of Americans who are going to inherit this country.”

Unlike some in his generation, Mattis took the opportunity to credit the younger generation of service members, particularly the infantry, for their selflessness and patriotism.

The infantry are named because they’re young, infant soldiers, young soldiers how they got their name,” he said. “They’re very young.”  Mattis’ affinity for the infantry is undoubtedly a result of his own time serving as an Infantry Officer in the United States Marine Corps.

“And so it’s really a humbling sense of just how great our younger generation is, how selfless it is, and what they are willing to commit – basically signing a blank check payable to the American people with their very lives to protect it. That’s really what I’ve come away from this job with is a deeper sense of just being humbled by the commitment of others.”

In the spirit of selflessness, Mattis also took the opportunity to defer the credit he has received for the work he continues to do as the head of America’s Defense Department, once again, giving the credit to the young men and women under his charge.

“It’s humbling, to tell you the truth, because as you go up, you realize how little – other than exercise good judgment – you really do,” he told Dickerson. “That it falls on the shoulders of very, very young people to carry this out inside the Department of Defense.”

Watch Mattis responded to the question, “What keeps you awake at night?” below:


Image courtesy of the Associated Press