Understanding the President’s Cabinet: Defense Secretary
Religion & Liberty Online

Understanding the President’s Cabinet: Defense Secretary

Note: This is the tenth in a weekly series of explanatory posts on the officials and agencies included in the President’s Cabinet. See the series introduction here.

Cabinet position: Secretary of Defense

Department: Department of Defense

Current Secretary: Jim Mattis

Succession: The Secretary of Defense is sixth in the presidential line of succession.

Department Mission: “The mission of the Department of Defense is to provide the military forces needed to deter war and to protect the security of our country.” (Source)

Department Budget: $582.7 billion (FY 2017)

Number of employees: More than 1.3 million men and women on active duty, and 742,000 civilian personnel. (Source)

Primary Duties of the Secretary: “Under the President, who is also Commander in Chief, the Secretary of Defense exercises authority, direction, and control over the Department, which includes the separately organized military departments of Army, Navy, and Air Force, the Joint Chiefs of Staff providing military advice, the unified and specified combatant commands, and various defense agencies established for specific purposes.” (Source)


Secretary Info

Secretary:  Jim Mattis

Previous occupation:  Commander of United States Central Command.

Education:  B.A. in history from Central Washington University and an M.A. in international security affairs from the National War College.

Previous government experience:  Served as a General in the U.S. Marine Corps. Served as Senior Military Assistant to the Deputy Secretary of Defense; as Director, Marine Corps Manpower Plans & Policy; as Commanding General, Marine Corps Combat Development Command; and as Executive Secretary to the Secretary of Defense.

Notable achievements:

• Co-editor of the book, Warriors & Citizens: American Views of Our Military

• Served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1969–2013.

• As a Marine, Mattis served in the Persian Gulf War, the war in Afghanistan, and the war in Iraq.

• Among his military honors are a Defense Distinguished Service Medal (with one oak leaf cluster), Legion of Merit, and Bronze Star Medal with Combat “V”.

• Served as a member of the General Dynamics Board of Directors.

• Served as an Annenberg Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the Hoover Institution.

Notable quotes:

Message to Marines before the invasion of Iraq: “Engage your brain before you engage your weapon. . . While we will move swiftly and aggressively against those who resist, we will treat all others with decency, demonstrating chivalry and soldierly compassion for people who have endured a lifetime under Saddam’s oppression.”

Message to Marines in Iraq: “Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet.”

Message to Marines in Iraq: “The first time you blow someone away is not an insignificant event. That said, there are some a–holes in the world that just need to be shot. There are hunters and there are victims. By your discipline, you will decide if you are a hunter or a victim.”

Message to Marines in Iraq: “If in order to kill the enemy you have to kill an innocent, don’t take the shot. Don’t create more enemies than you take out by some immoral act.”


Previous and forthcoming posts in this series: Secretary of StateSecretary of the Treasury, Secretary of Education, Secretary of Labor, Secretary of Defense, Attorney General, Secretary of the Interior, Secretary of Agriculture, Secretary of Commerce, Secretary of Health and Human Services, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Secretary of Transportation, Secretary of Energy, Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Secretary of Homeland Security


Joe Carter

Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).