Defense Secretary Jim Mattis provided a memorable commencement speech for graduates of the Naval War College earlier this month, and as has become his custom, the military’s favorite “warrior monk” yielded a few highlight reel quotes that left a lasting impression on those in attendance.
But as he navigated his way through the early portion of his speech, Mattis became noticeably bothered by a scratchy throat.
“That’s what you get when you testify too often in front of Congress, by the way,” he joked.
Clearing his throat every few seconds, Mattis pressed on.
“In the words of Adm. Chester Nimitz...nothing he encountered in the Pacific during the war was either strange or unexpected, for this campus had prepared him well.
“I’m very confident — thank you very much,” he said, halting his speech after an official brought him a bottle of water to remedy the nagging windpipe.
Taking a swig from the bottle, Mattis looked out at the audience and said, straight-faced, “If this was vodka, it'd be a lot better speech,” prompting laughter and applause throughout the crowd. “But I’m not supposed to glamorize alcohol anymore,” he added. “So you young folks, you ignore what I just said.”
Eventually, the defense secretary got back to serious matters and imparted a few lessons of military leadership before concluding.
“Don’t shy away from the hard problems and even tougher solutions by saying that something is above your paygrade,” he said. “Your nation and services did not invest a precious year of the finest education possible for you to take a timid view of your leadership responsibility.
“Keep your wits about you, keep your grace under fire, your civility with subordinates — inspiring those you lead with humility and intellectual rigor.”
Watch the full speech below.
J.D. Simkins is a writer and editor for Military Times, and a USMC veteran.