Gen. James Mattis held court in the MacDill Air Force Base theater on one of the last days of his career, speaking to a group of more than 200 service members and civilians. He credited noncommissioned officers with showing him the ropes early on and warned that the U.S. can't be sure what armed conflict it will be engaged in next, but kept the mood light by mixing in some of his trademark wit.
Asked what worried him, the general motioned to the stars on his collar and offered a one-liner evoking the long shadow he casts. "I don't worry about stress," Mattis said, according to a Marine in the room for the March 8 all-hands meeting in Tampa. "I create it."
Gen. James Mattis, the head of U.S. Central Command, takes questions after delivering a lecture to the London think tank Policy Exchange in London, Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2011.
Photo Credit: Matt Dunham/AP
Even if that quote is off by a word — media wasn't invited to the event — it's this combination of gruffness and humor that has helped make Mattis the most revered Marine general in at least a generation. Disagree? Name one other individual who is almost universally praised by everyone from lance corporals to his fellow four-stars. Name one other leader whose blunt speech has inspired tattoos, doting Web pages and tongue-in-cheek calls from admirers for a 2016 presidential campaign — one that probably would gain traction if Mattis had any interest.
Since 2010, the general known by the call sign "Chaos" has run U.S. Central Command, overseeing the war in Afghanistan and other military activity throughout the Middle East. On March 22, nearly 10 years to the day after he led 1st Marine Division during the ground invasion of Iraq, Mattis will be replaced by Army Gen. Lloyd Austin and retire. Thus ends one of the most dynamic careers for a general officer since the late Lt. Gen. Lewis "Chesty" Puller hung up his uniform in 1955.