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Former U.S. Defense Secretary Delivers Remarks as First Virtual Forrestal Lecturer at USNA

  POSTED ON: Thursday, September 17, 2020 3:45 PM by MC3 Thomas Bonaparte Jr.

Former U.S. Secretary of Defense and retired Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis delivered remarks at the first virtual Forrestal Lecture at the United States Naval Academy, Wednesday, Sept. 16, which kicked-off the lecture series for the 2021 academic year.

The lecture was screened in Alumni Hall with the Class of 2021 in attendance while Mattis presented virtually from a home office in Washington state, and was broadcast online for the remainder of the brigade to watch from their rooms, as well as for faculty and staff at home.

 Mattis’ remarks focused on values of initiative and courage, and their importance to future naval officers. 

“As junior officers you have only one battle to win every day,” said Mattis. “That battle is for the hearts and minds of your troops because they will be the ones, when the chips are down and at great peril, who will win your fights when it’s time for you to stand and deliver.”

Mattis explained his experience of employing a “player-coach” model of leadership; he took priority in developing his subordinates into leaders and holding them accountable for their actions.

"His advice to us as rising junior officers was to always put people first, and never underestimate the meaning you have in other people's lives,” said Midshipman 2nd Class (junior) Jake Meeks.  “Be optimistic in times where it's rare, listen to people even if they're yelling, help others who need it, and lead as best as you can.”

Reflecting upon his time as a Marine, Mattis described wanting to understand the difference in Marines’ and Sailors’ performance.  After watching countless units, crews, and teams in tough circumstances who had the same training, similar equipment, and when trust and respect was present, he observed that some platoons were worth twice their number in a firefight. He said it wasn’t popularity or having a strong sense of authority that made these units  perform well, but affection.  

He explained that affection in some units was so strong that those Sailors and Marines could never let each other down, and that it was the result of junior officers who listened to their non-commissioned officers; junior officers who made their expectations and decisions clear; junior officers who could build teams that worked in harmony; junior officers who bred confidence and affection that no enemy could break.

Mattis spoke of his personal happiness to serve the country, making note of the “enormous self-healing capability in this country” that midshipmen were a part of.

“The idea that you young people are willing to put yourself on the line for this country breeds a nobility in other people that you won’t even recognize because you can’t see it,” he said.

According to Midshipman 1st Class (senior) Turner Morse, "General Mattis was able to control the room, even when he was speaking remotely.”

 “His charisma was felt throughout the lecture, but something that I really liked hearing was his approach to the leadership as a ‘coach’ with a ‘team of players’,” said Morse. “Spending your time as a leader, developing your subordinates rather than simply commanding them was what worked for him, and I hope I can embody that ‘coach’ identity at my command."

Midshipman 1st Class Stephen Hess added that "the thoughts of a man at the end of his career are the most valuable thing I think junior officers can hear.”

“Specifically for me, his adjusted approach that officers are mentors more so than leaders was really insightful and is something I will be bringing with me to the fleet upon graduation,” said Hess. 

Midshipmen traditionally present the Forrestal speaker with a token gift as thanks for their time and participation in the lecture. Mattis was presented with a commemorative Commodore Perry “Don’t Give Up The Ship” flag that was signed by the Class of 2021, which will be mailed to him.

The Forrestal Lecture Series was established in 1970 to honor James V. Forrestal, the first Secretary of Defense. The purpose of the series is to enhance the education, awareness, and appreciation of the Brigade of Midshipmen for the social, political, and cultural dimensions of the Nation and the world. 

As the undergraduate college of our country's naval service, the Naval Academy prepares young men and women to become professional officers of competence, character, and compassion in the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps.


Category: General Interest, People, Press Releases, Midshipmen