The Interesting Backstories to Each of Gen. Jim Mattis’ Nicknames

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Secretary of Defense James Mattis addresses National Guard leaders at the National Guard Association of the United States 140th General Conference, New Orleans, Louisiana, Aug. 25, 2018. (U.S. Army National Guard/Sgt. 1st Class Jim Greenhill)
Secretary of Defense James Mattis addresses National Guard leaders at the National Guard Association of the United States 140th General Conference, New Orleans, Louisiana, Aug. 25, 2018. (U.S. Army National Guard/Sgt. 1st Class Jim Greenhill)

There has never been a United States Secretary of Defense that has been so universally beloved. Retired Gen. Jim Mattis was confirmed in 2017 by a landslide vote of 98 in favor and 1 opposed, despite being on a waiver to circumvent the seven-years-since-retirement requirement to be appointed Secretary of Defense.

Long before he rose to the highest position in the Armed Forces, second only to the President, he earned several monikers, each from a different aspect of his ability to lead.

4. “Mad Dog” Mattis

Missing media item.

For the record: He is not a fan of the name, “Mad Dog” Mattis. So, you probably don’t want to go saying it to a man that has admitted that the max effective range on his knife hand is hundreds of miles.

It dates back to a 2004 Los Angeles Times article saying that U.S. troops in Fallujah called him “Mad Dog” behind his back and that it was “high praise” in Marine culture.

The “Mad Dog” label stuck following a series of intimidating quotes, such as, “be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet” and “a good soldier follows orders, but a true warrior wears his enemy’s skin like a poncho.”

At Gen. Mattis’s confirmation hearing, former Maine Senator and the Secretary of Defense from 1997 to 2001, William Cohen, joked that it’s a misnomer and the nickname “Braveheart” would have been much more accurate.

3. “Warrior Monk”

Then-U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis speaks at an event honoring the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Paul Ryan, at the Pentagon, Arlington, Va., Nov. 28, 2018. (DoD photo/Lisa Ferdinando)
Then-U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis speaks at an event honoring the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Paul Ryan, at the Pentagon, Arlington, Va., Nov. 28, 2018. (DoD photo/Lisa Ferdinando)

The most accurate of his nicknames has to be “The Warrior Monk.” Another beautiful Mattisism is, “the most important six inches on the battlefield is between your ears.”

Gen. Mattis is well known for his intelligence, extensive book collection, and giving his troops required reading lists that range from cultural studies to Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations. For his complete reading list, broken down by rank and region of deployment, click here.

2. “CHAOS”

U.S. Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis.
U.S. Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis addresses cadets from the Class of 2019 during his visit to the U.S. Air Force Academy, Colo., Nov. 30, 2018. (U.S. Air Force/Joshua Armstrong)

His preferred nickname is the call sign he used as a Colonel, “Chaos.” He joked at a conference that he’d like to tell people that it was for some dignified reason, but it’s not.

When he was a regimental commander at Twentynine Palms, he was leaving the S-3 office and noticed the words “CHAOS” written on the whiteboard. He asked someone what it meant and got, “Oh, you don’t need to know about that…” which, of course, only piqued his interest more.

Finally, they broke it to him that it meant, “Colonel Has An Outstanding Suggestion.” It was a joke at his expense that he took in stride, so he wore it as a badge of honor.

1. “Patron Saint of Chaos”

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis stands with Marines before a sunset parade at the Marine Barracks Washington in Arlington, Va., June 30, 2017. (DoD/U.S. Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith)
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis stands with Marines before a sunset parade at the Marine Barracks Washington in Arlington, Va., June 30, 2017. (DoD/U.S. Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith)

Secretary of Defense Mattis’ legendary status among the troops has earned him the title, “Saint Mattis of Quantico. Patron Saint of Chaos.”

The meme has spread far and wide from Terminal Lance to t-shirts to the sidebar of the USMC subreddit to even being posted by the MARSOC official Facebook page.

So, if you’ll join us in a quick reading,

Hail Mattis, full of hate. Our troops stand with thee. Blessed art thou among enlisted. And blessed is the fruit of thy knife hand. Holy Mattis, father of War. Pray for us heathen, Now and at the hour of combat. Amen.


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