Straight-talking Mattis tapped to lead JFCom
By Gidget Fuentes - Staff writer
Posted : Sunday Sep 23, 2007 9:33:50 EDT

OCEANSIDE, Calif. — The recent nomination of Lt. Gen. Jim “Mad Dog” Mattis to take the helm of U.S. Joint Forces Command will put one of the Corps’ most popular leaders and intellectual devil dogs at the helm of the military’s transformation as it continues to fight counterinsurgency in Iraq and other global unconventional threats.

Mattis, a frank-talking officer whose nomination and expected promotion to four-star general was announced Sept. 12, also would become NATO’s supreme allied commander for transformation once he is confirmed by the Senate this fall.

Mattis, 57, is a career infantry officer with combat experiences in the 1991 Persian Gulf War, where he led an infantry battalion with Task Force Ripper, and in the 2003 invasion of Iraq, where he led 1st Marine Division through subsequent security and stability operations in 2004.

For the past year, he has commanded I Marine Expeditionary and led Marine Corps Forces-Central Command. His deputy, Maj. Gen. Samuel Helland, has been nominated to take command of I MEF and MarCent and to receive a third star.

Helland, 59, is a helicopter pilot by training and is no stranger to ground combat and unconventional warfare: A former Army Special Forces operator, he saw combat in Vietnam with 5th Special Forces Group’s Military Advisory Command (Special Operations Group).

His Corps command tours include Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 461, a CH-53 helicopter squadron, the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit and Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa. In July, he handed over command of 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego before heading over to be Mattis’ deputy at I MEF.

Mattis’ new destination, the Norfolk, Va.-based U.S. Joint Forces Command, is a unified command with the primary mission of helping transform the military in areas of experimentation, innovation, interoperability and joint doctrine, as well as training joint forces and coordinating training simulations and modeling.

This new assignment will place Mattis in an influential pulpit to reshape the direction of military training and transformation.

An intellectual and voracious reader, Mattis is a student of history who’s read tales of Roman battles and modern warfare. While head of Marine Corps Combat Development Command at Quantico, Va., he had a big hand in crafting the new doctrinal work on counterinsurgency, Field Manual 3-24. He has expanded cultural training, including the foreign area officer program with greater language training and immersion into the foreign area, and in 2005, he established the Center for Advanced Operational Cultural Learning at Quantico.

Last summer, as MarCent commander, Mattis issued a reading list for all Marines, from privates and squad leaders up through general officers, that covers a wide range of historical accounts of battles and in-depth writings on religion and cultures.

“An untrained or uneducated Marine or sailor deployed to the combat zone is a bigger threat to mission accomplishment and to our own troops and noncombatants than the enemy,” he wrote in a message announcing the list. “My aim is to deploy with the full strength of history from those who went before us, who fought and who learned hard lessons that we must benefit from so we gain victory at the lowest cost.”
Inspiring from the front

To most leathernecks, Mattis is considered a real war fighter, a leader with almost mythical, rock-star status like Chesty Puller and Al Gray.

Mattis moves at ease talking with young infantrymen, senior commanders and Iraqi counterparts. He often refers to Marines as “my fine young men.” His official biography is very Marine: Simple, short and to the point. It doesn’t mince words, noting only his command billets and omitting staff assignments.

Mattis, who is not married, has made a life out of the Corps. His infantry career has been punctuated by command assignments at just about every level, from platoon to division to expeditionary force.

Leading 1st Marine Division into Iraq in spring 2003, Mattis coined the phrase “no better friend, no worse enemy,” which has become a de facto division motto.

On the eve of the 2003 invasion, Mattis penned his commander’s intent and charge to his Marines in a letter that’s since been shared, re-posted, e-mailed and spread across the Internet.

“The time has come to end his reign of terror,” he wrote of their mission to unseat Saddam Hussein. “On your young shoulders rest the hopes of mankind.

“You are part of the world’s most feared and trusted force. Engage your brain before you engage your weapon,” he said, adding: “Fight with a happy heart and strong spirit.”

And Mattis reminded them of their lineage and responsibility. “Carry out your mission and keep your honor clean,” he wrote. “Demonstrate to the world that there is ‘No Better Friend, No Worse Enemy’ than a U.S. Marine.”
In the hot seat

Mattis’ candor at times has raised eyebrows and drawn public rebukes.

Perhaps the most-publicized comments by Mattis came during a panel discussion at a San Diego defense industry conference in 2005. It was a few words — “it’s fun to kill people” — that was caught on tape and re-aired internationally.

“You go into Afghanistan and you got guys who slap women around for five years because they didn’t wear a veil,” he said. “You know, guys like that ain’t got no manhood left anyway, so it’s a helluva lot of fun to shoot them. You know what I mean. It’s a good fight.”

Those words, televised and reported internationally, drew “bravo Zulus” from some and shame from others.

Then-commandant Gen. Mike Hagee “counseled” Mattis about his choice of words. “He agrees he should have chosen his words more carefully,” Hagee said in a statement.

Mattis’ words came during the Feb. 1, 2005, panel discussion on the war’s lessons learned, and he spoke about the war and how “the ferocity and the skill of our troops overwhelms the enemy.”

Mattis admitted to the audience that “I like brawling” and noted that the military must ensure “we are advertising, recruiting [and] selecting the right kind of people to go into this fight so you’re not out there with people that have any misunderstanding of what this is all about.”

His words, however, didn’t differ much from the usual volley of blunt words — he often referred to insurgent fighters as “hiding behind women’s skirts” — he offered Marine Corps Times and other journalists embedded with infantry units in Iraq he visited at the time.

The “fun to shoot” comment wasn’t the first time he got into some public hot water.

On Nov. 26, 2001, Mattis led a force of Marines from the 15th and 26th Marine expeditionary units in the initial ground and air push into Afghanistan. “The Marines have landed and we now own a piece of Afghanistan,” he said, according to news reports from embedded journalists.

The comment resonated with leathernecks — any land you’re on you control, is the thinking — but it left others with a politically unappetizing image of a territorial land grab by U.S. forces.

His transition will likely leave Helland the task of making weighty decisions regarding high-profile criminal investigations and prosecutions in three highly publicized cases involving civilian deaths in the Iraqi villages of Hadithah and Hamdaniya, and in Afghanistan near Jalalabad. The MarCent commander is the convening authority of all three cases.