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James Mattis

United States Secretary of Defense

Washington DC, United States

How do you describe a man who is a military leader but does not own a television, has never married, and has no children? These are three of the key characteristics of James Mattis, the current Secretary of Defense.

Born September, 8, 1950 in Pullman, Washington, he is the son of John and Lucille Mattis. His parents did not own a television and instead encouraged him to read books from his parents' home library. It was reported that when he went to Iraq he carried with him a book by a Roman Emperor, Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, continuing the lessons of his upbringing. He attended Central Washington State University where he earned a Bachelor's degree in History.

Though a career military officer, James Mattis said he never intended to make the military a career. He had enrolled in the ROTC and joined the Marines in 1972. Those were the days of a military draft, and Mattis saw military service as an inevitability, not a lottery chance. He saw the end of that career 40 years later. Two of the more often quoted nicknames given to him are "Mad Dog" and "Warrior Monk." He served in both the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, eventually rising to the position of head of US Central Command in the Middle East.

The biography of James Mattis will have a greater focus on his achievements because he has no wife or children. That history also includes a mixed bag of business dealing, of particular interest his relationship as a member of the Board of Directors of Theranos, a medical equipment company that was accused of selling devices without FDA approval and delivering inaccurate test results, resulting in major health problems for some of the patients. He remains a member of the Board of Directors of General Dynamics, a military defense contractor.

To achieve the position of Secretary of Defense in 2017, General Mattis had to obtain approval from Congress to fill the new Cabinet post. The reason is that Congressional rules require a military officer to remain out of military service for a period of 7 years to avoid potential conflicts of interest. But a waver is allowed, and Mattis easily won the approval of both Republican and Democratic leaders, no small feat in the hostile political climate after the Trump presidential victory. This was possible in part due to his moderate positions and experience regarding the Middle East, where he considers Iran a major threat but prefers diplomacy to bullets and bombs. This is summarized in a quote attributed to him: "I come in peace. I didn't bring artillery. But I'm pleading with you, with tears in my eyes: If you [expletive] with me, I'll kill you all."

Despite the apparent stark contrasts in his world perspectives, James Mattis seems to have never left his hometown roots, returning there after his military retirement to contribute his efforts to the Tri-Cities Food Bank and assisting the local VFW chapter. His new position as Secretary of Defense will write yet another chapter of a storied service to his country.

(By Biopage writers. Photo credit DoD photo by Master Sgt. Ken Hammond, U.S. Air Force. Please contact Biopage for inaccuracy)

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Jim Mattis is a worthy successor to the only previous general officer to serve as Secretary of Defense, General George C. Marshall. Mattis shares Marshall’s deep knowledge of history, his strategic vision, his appreciation of both America’s national interests and its values, his tough-mindedness about policies and people, and his integrity. Like Marshall, Mattis is also unafraid to speak truth to power. As Secretary of Defense, I recommended Jim Mattis to take charge of both Joint Forces Command and Central Command. His tasks were challenging: he had to dismantle the former, and he oversaw the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But I never worried about him sugarcoating his message to me or others. Finally, Jim Mattis loves the troops. He will do what is necessary to protect the country, and he will care for our men and women in uniform as if they were his own children. (By Robert Gates, former director of the CIA and Secretary of Defense, and the chancellor of the College of William & Mary. Photo credit Andrew Harnik - AP)

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