“I always had good ideas – at least I thought they were very good ideas. And one day, walking out of my operations officer’s office, I noticed ‘chaos’ written on this whiteboard. I said, ‘What’s this about?’” James Mattis said before attendees at a recent conference.

America’s Secretary of Defense, James Mattis, is perhaps the most well-known and revered official to hold the top spot at the Pentagon in some time.  His legendary career as a Marine earned him the respect of many of America’s service members, and since being appointed by President Trump, his measured responses and professional composure have earned him the support of many beyond the military and veteran demographic.

That was not always the case, of course, and back before James Mattis received the necessary waiver and subsequent confirmation he needed to take his place at the helm of America’s defensive machine, some media outlets took to analyzing the man’s nickname, “Mad Dog Mattis,” in hopes of assessing the man’s potential to lead.  By Mattis’ own admission, the nickname may sound imposing, but may not actually reflect the man also often characterized as the “Warrior Monk.”

Mattis, it turns out, didn’t have anything to do with the name “Mad Dog” being bestowed upon him, but that wasn’t the case for another title that’s followed the Defense Secretary from his past life in uniform: his call sign.

For those who are unaware, a call sign, in its most simplistic form, is a sort of nickname.  Sometimes it’s assigned to you based on a combination of letter and number designators, sometimes it’s bestowed upon you as a sign or respect or a bit of forced humility, and every once in a while, you get to decide your own.  When you’re a Marine Corps Colonel and Regimental Commander, you can pretty much decide that your call sign is whatever the hell you say it is.

James Mattis earned his call sign, “Chaos,” as just such a colonel, though the story of how the name came about may not be quite what you expect, based on the man’s fearsome reputation as a war fighter.

On September 20th, Mattis appeared before the Air Force Association Air and Space Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, where he took a moment to tell the story of how the call sign “Chaos” came about.

Watch the video below: