General Mattis

The United States Marine Corps has a reputation of forging some of the greatest warfighters on the face of the earth.   There have, at times, been exceptions to the rule.  Men who have stepped beyond greatness and in to legendary status.  These legends would come to shape the very foundation of our Corps.  This legend is General Mattis.  The man that would mold our modern ethos.

General "Mad Dog" Mattis Devil Dog Sweatshirts USMC Silver Coins

General “Mad Dog” Mattis

The foundation, through General Mattis’ leadership, would not be shaped, but meticulously molded.  Many would commonly refer to him as the “warrior monk”, because of his devoted study to the art and of war.  He is said to have a traveling library containing around 7,000 books.   Major General Robert Scales (Ret) (PhD) described him as “One of the most urbane and polished men I had ever known”.

General Mattis and COIN Development

This was true, yet to top that, he was one of the most outspoken military leaders of our time.  General Mattis by definition is an unconventional thinker.  It was he and General Petraeus that pushed to get a revision on counterinsurgency publications.  In 2006 the two leaders, along with think-tanks from the army’s Combined Arms Center, issued the revision FM 3-24 (Field Manual).  After two years of implication, “lessons learned”, and minor revisions General Petraeus issued his “Commander Counterinsurgency Guidance”.  This publication is the most complete and up to date Field Manual on counterinsurgency warfighting theory and operations guidance to date.

The senior commander in charge was undoubtedly General Petraeus, yet General Mattis provided much intellectual and experiential insight to the COIN Manual.  It was in the killing fields of Iraq that some of the boldest changes to the Marine Corps took place. 


During the invasion our forces moved very swiftly into enemy territory.  Air bombardments accompanied our advance.  This pushed the Iraqi army deep in to the populated urban jungle of the major cities and forced them to adopt an unconventional style warfare.

The defeated Iraqi army took to the surrounding areas to hide as insurgents.  What followed was a long period of guerrilla warfare.  The fighting was very viscous.  The Iraqi insurgents found out very quickly that they could not meet the US forces head-to-head.  Instead, they turned to IED (Improvised Explosive Device) warfare.  This was a method of warfare that long removed them from the fight, allowing them to inflict casualties without the risk of being annihilated.  At its peak, IED warfare was responsible for 89 of 129 coalition casualties. The way that the army and Marines adapted to this dire situation would further set the two service branches apart.

The army’s TTPs (Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures), when ambushed was to push through.  When IED warfare became an increasing threat the army convoys would push from one FOB (Forward Operating Base) to the next at a high rate of speed.  Their mobility, they thought, would not leave their convoys open for a concentrated ambush.  General Mattis saw this a different way.

As commander of 1st Marine Division during the invasion of Iraq, General Mattis was able to gain valuable experiential knowledge from after action reports.  This would be instrumental in the development of many Marine Corps TTPs and later, the “COIN Manual”. 

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Gen Mattis and Combat Hunter

General Mattis saw our forces becoming reactive, instead of proactive.  For instance, the army TTPs were to push through an ambush.  Marine Corps TTPs were to stop the patrol, close with, and destroy the enemy.  This tactic struck fear into the enemy and prevented (but did not stop) many of the attacks from occurring.  The enemy would soon adapt to this.  From their observations, they were able to set IEDs in our 5’s and 25’s.  As a result, many of the Marines trained to dismount and assault through.  They fell victim to secondary and tertiary IEDs. 

Gen Mattis saw us losing the advantage and momentum.  He said to Marines in Al Assad, “The first time you blow someone away is not an insignificant event.  That said, there are some *******s in the world that just need to be shot.  There are hunters and there are victims.  By your discipline, you will decide if you are a hunter or a victim.”

Combat Hunter Development

General Mattis looked at the overall picture.  We were no longer the hunters, but the prey.  As many across the globe know, that is not the way Marines conduct the business of warfare.  So, under his leadership, the Combat Hunter program was created.  The program development was headed by three separate subject matter experts, or SMEs. 

  • First was Ivan Carter, a big game hunter from Africa, who developed a curriculum for observation of the physical and human terrain. 
  • Second was David Scott Donelan, a former Rhodesian Special Forces soldier with 40 years of experience, to create a course for tracking human prey. 
  • Third was former Detroit police officer Greg Williams, who would develop classes for profiling and analysis. 

This combined array of knowledge was built upon in the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab in Quantico, VA.  It was circulated and implemented into classes in 2006.  This gave Marines the necessary edge when fighting in an entirely different dimension of warfare.

General Mattis brainchild, the Combat Hunter Program Devil Dog Sweatshirts USMC Silver Coins

General Mattis brainchild, the Combat Hunter Program

“Mad-Dog” Mattis and the Infantry Immersion Trainer

General Mattis was also able to head the creation of one of the most realistic war fighting simulations in the Marine Corps.  This was called the Infantry Immersion Trainer, or IIT.  The training area consisted of a giant warehouse, inside was a studio rigged with special effects and pyrotechnics.  In addition, the interior was made to resemble the streets of Iraq.  Even down to the very smells. 

Infantry Immersion Trainer, conceived by General Mattis Devil Dog Sweatshirts USMC Silver Coins

Infantry Immersion Trainer, conceived by General Mattis

The Marines sent through the training area were immersed in a world of ethnic role-players that spoke and dressed as Iraqi natives.  The sound of the mussien’s call to prayer would be played in the background, building the suspense. 

All of a sudden a loud explosion accompanied by smoke, dust, and the smell of explosives would hit the air!  You can hear the screams of Iraqi civilian that has been hit!  To everyone’s surprise, the guy had no legs and he was riddled with little shards of glass all over his body, bleeding (with the help of a bilateral amputee role player and Hollywood special effects artist). 

The whole set-up was supposed to mimic combat conditions. Furthermore the IIT also had psychologists on staff to research how Marines handle combat stress.  None of this would exist without the guidance and direction of General Mattis.

Gen Mattis and Effects Based Operations

General Mattis was instrumental in abolishing Effects-Based Operations.  He believed our military high command was receiving a diluted sense of warfare with the constant barrage of drone footage and PowerPoint presentations.  It made war seem more predictable and manageable than it really was.  He would even deduce that commanders would eventually stop taking risks, which is essential in warfare.  He would press this idea down to the lowest ranks of the Marine Corps.  Calling for commanders to become more “engaged” with the local populace.  Most notably, this is were he coined the phrase “No better friend, no worse enemy”.

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Legacy of General Mattis

General “Mad Dog” Mattis certainly had no verbal refrain when it came to his Marines.  Nor did he when it came to politicians or the press.  One quote that he gave to the press caused him reprimand from Commandant Michael Hagee, saying “You go to Afghanistan, you got guys who slap women around for five years because they didn’t wear a veil.  You know, guys like that ain’t got no manhood left anyway.  So it’s a hell of a lot of fun to shoot at them.  Actually it’s quite fun to fight them, you know.  It’s a hell of a hoot.  It’s fun to shoot some people.  I’ll be right up there with you.  I like brawling.”

In addition, another controversial quote would strike fear into his enemies.  It stood as a reminder of our capabilities.  General Mattis sent back his tanks and artillery and tried reasoning with Iraqi tribal leaders.  He would say “I come in peace.  I didn’t bring artillery.  But I’m pleading with you, with tears in my eyes if you ***k me, I’ll kill you all.”

As outspoken and crude as Gen Mattis may have sounded, he made every Marine understand that “the most important six inches on the battlefield are between your ears.”    He let them know, that around the locals, “you need to be friendly and polite, but have a plan to kill everyone you meet.”  He shifted the Marine corps in the right direction.  To take on the daunting task of counterinsurgency.  Furthermore, it allowed Marines to seize the advantage in the civil dimension of operations.

Career of General Mattis

“Mad Dog” Mattis ability to personally connect with his Marines are known by all that served with him.  He took Duty on Christmas, as a Brigadier General, for a Major with a wife and child back home.  Stories like this exemplify his extraordinary leadership.  In addition, it serves as a personal example for each Marine.

General Mattis had such a reputation that many Republicans asked him to run for President as a 3rd-Party Canidate in 2016.  He declined.  However, after Donald Trump was elected the 45th President of the United States his reputation proceeded him.  President Trump would meet with the retired Marine Corps General.  After the short meeting, his mind was made up.  President Trump would ask General Mattis to become this nation’s Secretary of Defense.

This did not happen overnight.  There were just a few more hurdles to jump through.  In order to be considered for the position, one must be out of the military for seven years.  Also, the Secretary of Defense is a position usually filled by civilians.  James Mattis did not meet the criteria.  He had to go before Congress and the Senate before being granted a waiver.  The waiver was easily obtained.  Mad Dog’s reputation did not know political boundaries as he was well received by Republicans and Democrats alike.