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Central Washington University

Secretary of Defense honored by CWU Board of Trustees

The Central Washington University Board of Trustees has approved a resolution honoring alumnus James Mattis in his new role as secretary of defense for the United States Department of Defense.

The retired Marine Corps general was confirmed by the United States Senate, by a vote of 98 to 1, and sworn in as the nation’s top civilian military official. He now has oversight of the Defense Department’s nearly two-million active-duty service members, reservists, and more than $580 billion budget.

Mattis retired from military service in 2013 and had been serving as the Davies Family Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, specializing in the study of leadership, national security, strategy, innovation, and the effective use of military force. In 2016, he co-edited the book, Warriors & Citizens: American Views of Our Military and was also approached by members of president-elect Donald Trump’s transition team.

The CWU resolution made note of Mattis's ties to central and eastern Washington and his distinguished career as an officer during which he "exemplified the classic definition of a soldier scholar."

Mattis has been hailed among of the nation’s most influential military leaders, based in large part on his command of troops in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Calling him one of the military’s “outstanding combat leaders and strategic thinkers,” then Defense Secretary Robert Gates selected Mattis to serve as commander of United States Central Command, where he directed military operations of more than 200,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen, Coast Guardsmen, Marines, and allied forces across the Middle East.

During more than four decades in uniform, Mattis commanded Marines at all levels, from an infantry rifle platoon to a Marine Expeditionary Force. He was in charge of an infantry battalion in Iraq in 1991, an expeditionary brigade in Afghanistan after the 9/11 terror attack in 2001, a Marine Division in the initial attack and subsequent operations in Iraq in 2003, and led all U.S. Marine Forces in the Middle East as Commander, I Marine Expeditionary Force, and U.S. Marine Forces Central Command.

As a joint force commander, he also led U.S. Joint Forces Command, NATO’s Supreme Allied Command for Transformation.

As for his non-combat assignments, Mattis was senior military assistant to the Deputy Secretary of Defense; director, Marine Corps Manpower Plans and Policy; commanding general, Marine Corps Combat Development Command; and executive secretary to the Secretary of Defense.

His new position culminates a military career than began when Mattis, 66, graduated from CWU with a degree in history in 1971 and was commissioned as a Marine Second Lieutenant. He also graduated from the Amphibious Warfare School, Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and the National War College.

Congress approved a waiver for the retired four-star general to serve in the position, as current law requires former service members to have been out of uniform for at least seven years to serve as defense secretary. Mattis became the first senior military officer to become defense secretary since Army Gen. George C. Marshall in 1950, during the Korean War.

Forty-years after he received his degree, Mattis, then a four-star general, addressed CWU’s 120th commencement in 2011, where he told graduates it is important to have a code to live by in public and private life.

“You will need to write your own code; no one can write it for you,” said Mattis, a native of Richland, Washington. “It will help you make a positive impact on the lives of others and help you overcome mental and physical scrapes and bruises.”

Mattis also urged graduates to rely on their Pacific Northwest “grit and moxie” to lead a life of service to “the experiment” called American democracy.

“Don't wait for life to begin; grab it and ride it like a Northwest cowboy,” Mattis implored. “Don't sell yourself short and play it safe. Commit to danger and discomfort to keep this experiment alive.”

Mattis also recognized and thanked faculty, who he said, “armed me for life in ways my rifle could not.”

Under established succession procedures, Mattis, the nation’s 26th secretary of defense, is now the fifth government official in line to become or act as president in the event the incumbent becomes incapacitated, dies, resigns, or is removed from office. 

Media contact: Robert Lowery, director of radio services and integrated communications, 509-963-1487,

Updated: January 30, 2017

Photo: Secretary of Defense James Mattis (courtesy U.S. Department of Defense).

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