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US Marine General Jim Mattis Honoured for 40-Years of Public Service

Heather Foley, the wife of the late former U.S. Speaker of the House Thomas S. Foley, bestows the inaugural Thomas S. Foley Award for Distinguished Public Service to former United States Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis during a ceremony at Gonzaga University on Tuesday. The award was sponsored by the Thomas S. Foley Institute for Public Policy and Public Service at Washington State University. (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

General Jim Mattis, one of the most celebrated senior officers in US modern history, has been honoured with an award for distinguished public service.

Gen Mattis, 73, who also served as defence secretary for the first two years of the Trump administration, was awarded the first Thomas S. Foley Award after dedicating virtually all of his adult life to public service.
During his acceptance speech, the former US Marine general called on members of the audience to reject political division and cynicism in the United States.

Gen Mattis said: “I trust some of you young folks in the audience will leave tonight refusing to adopt the childish practices you see too often on our television screens.

“Rather, resolving to embrace the courage, the conviction, the civility and the dignity of Tom Foley,” Gen Mattis added during the award presentation by Washington State University’s Foley Institute.

Tom Foley was a lawyer and American politician, who served as the 49th speaker of the House of Representatives. The politician was also a member of the Democratic Party and represented Washington’s fifth district for thirty years. His name is now synonymous with public service.

Before retiring in 2013, Gen Mattis served over 40 years in the United States military, including as a general at the highest levels within the U.S. Marine Corps. He took part in both Gulf Wars and served in Afghanistan, where he developed two nicknames – “Mad Dog” and “Chaos”, the second of which he later revealed was an acronym assigned to him by the men under his command and stood for “Colonel Has Another Outstanding Solution”.

Gen Mattis epitomised the rugged and uncompromising US Marine. He was once asked in a TV interview on CBS “What keeps you awake at night?”, “Nothing” he replied, adding, “I keep other people awake at night.”

Despite his tough persona, Gen Mattis has long been regarded as one of the most intellectually gifted officers of his generation, a quality which led to him being called back into service as Secretary of Defence under former President Donald Trump.

But Gen Mattis resigned over policy issues, primarily over the withdrawal of US troops from Syria and later broke away from Trump in the lead-up to the 2020 election.

During his speech, Gen Mattis said he hoped he was a good steward for the legacy of Tom Foley, whom he called “one of the finest citizens our state ever produced”.

He described Foley as the “quintessential American patriot”, who put his country before his party and his personal interest. He specifically cited Foley’s role in shepherding the Americans with Disabilities Act through Congress in the 1990s.

He added: “You see this same theme in him looking at people who are left behind on the margins of our society and bringing them inside and giving them a level playing field.”

Retired General and former Secretary of Defense James Mattis addresses WSU students, faculty and staff on the Pullman campus in March 2022 (Photo by Dean Hare/WSU Photo Services).

He described Foley as an example of a public servant who actively seeks to work with those opposed to him. Calling such bipartisanship a “lost art” in today’s politics; Gen Mattis said he hoped he was a representative of that same ethos.

“Tom Foley had a worldview that just one generation ago dominated America. It is amazing and can even be a bit discouraging, though, to see how much our political climate has degraded in the past year,” he said.

In introducing the Gen Mattis, inventor and entrepreneur Ed Schweitzer said he had “earned a reputation for technical brilliance and humility”.

Mr Schweitzer told the audience: “It’s fitting and proper that Gen Mattis, a man who has dedicated his life to public service into protecting and defending the values of democracy and our Constitution, should be the first recipient.”

Mr Schweitzer also made reference to when Gen Mattis spoke out against President Trump amid civil unrest seen in 2020. At the time, he called Trump “the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people”.

Mr Schweitzer added: “There was a time when our country felt divided, angry, hopeless. Many of our political leaders use their platforms to inflame tensions. Others remained silent and said nothing at all. Gen Mattis spoke out in support of national unity and civil liberties,” Schweitzer said at the ceremony.
Gen Mattis, however, only referred to his former boss indirectly, instead he focussed his speech on

Thomas Foley, adding that the Congressman did not “whine like a baby” and contest the result when losing his seat in 1994 by a mere 4,000 votes — an oblique reference to Trump’s debunked election fraud claims.

Gen Mattis also used his speech as a clarion call for all Americans to come together and reject disunity.
He added: “We can all see the storm clouds gathering overseas and here at home where Americans engage in contempt for each other, seeming unaware of the delight they create in Beijing and Moscow with their unprincipled insults of fellow Americans, as we seem intent on tearing each other apart.

“The enemies of freedom — foreign and domestic — are watching and hoping that Americans will turn cynical and lose our selfless spirit.  Dictators and authoritarians look with fear to our freedom, our experiment, our model that has long served as an inspiration to oppressed people everywhere.

“Our radical experiment into a government of the people, by the people, and for the people is paralysed by those who cannot hold fast to Tom Foley’s example of democracy, a form of government that demands mutual respect, that expects a fundamental friendliness among citizens, and requires compromise as a political reality. 

“Whether we enjoy America’s freedom by an accident of birth or by immigration like my mother, we all live free in this land by our own choice. It’s our responsibility to show respect and genuine friendship to each other as fellow citizens — including those with whom we may disagree — by unifying around the radical ideas in our Constitution.

“That is how we can meet our ultimate responsibility as citizens: to turn over to the next generation a republic in better shape than we received it. Tom Foley lived those values and always treated with respect the people he disagreed with.  It’s not hard.”

Turning to the younger members of the audience, he added: “For you young people in the audience, you should know that you are living through a dishonest time in our political life.  We all know that Americans are better than our current politics.  We are witnessing and living with the consequences of not demanding mature leadership.

“And you need to know that there is nothing wrong with America that can’t be fixed by what’s right about America, as President Clinton once said.

“”We can come through this trying time stronger, and with a renewed sense of purpose and respect for one another.  Senator John McCain once said that “a shared purpose enlarges your sense of yourself.” 

 “But only by committing to a better path—which really means returning to the original path of our founding ideals—will we again be a country admired and respected at home and abroad.

And that means all of us, for we are all custodians of our democracy. And in that regard, we must know that we cannot tear each other down without grave consequences for our beloved America, for we are America.”

Please see Gen. Mattis’s acceptance speech in the link below.

Sean Rayment is the Defence and Security Editor for National Security News. He is also a best selling author, broadcaster and award-winning defence and security journalist. He has also previously served as an officer in Parachute Regiment Officer. He has reported from war zones around the world including Iraq, Afghanistan, the Balkans, Africa, and Northern Ireland and is one of the few British journalists to twice visit the US detention centre at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. He has written for virtually all British national newspapers and specialises in security, intelligence, and defence reporting, with a specific interest in mental health issues in the military community. Sean is also the author of Bomb Hunters and Tales from the Special Forces Club. He also co-wrote the international bestselling Painting the Sand with Kim Hughes GC and Endurance with former SAS operator Louis Rudd.