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Officers Must Challenge Assumptions, General Says

By Lisa Daniel
American Forces Press Service

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va., May 13, 2010 – Military officers must challenge assumptions in many areas -- from budgeting to multinational collaboration to reliance on technology and working with the media -- to maintain effectiveness in the future, the commander of U.S. Joint Forces Command said here today.

Marine Corps Gen. James N. Mattis, speaking at the 2010 Joint Warfighting Conference, said combatant and coalition commanders must see and anticipate emerging threats and impose cost strategies on them.

“No nation in history has maintained its military strength if it didn’t keep its financial house in order,” Mattis said.

Mattis said he is looking forward to the cost-cutting measures advocated by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates.

Cost-cutting measures are important for “the intellectual rigor it forces on us,” Mattis said. And keeping a close eye on military spending, he added, also provides credibility when the Pentagon asks Congress for funding.

Mattis also spoke of his concern, echoed by other conference speakers, of servicemembers’ reliance on technology, which he said can be overly expensive and more vulnerable to the enemy than conventional weapons.

“The enemy would not take on the U.S. Air Force at 15,000 feet in a fighter plane. But, they can blow away the pilots while they sleep in Khobar Towers,” said Mattis, referring to a June 25, 1996, bombing attack in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, that killed 19 American airmen and injured nearly 500.

Today’s enemies also “would not take on the U.S. Army in an open desert, but they will take them down in cities … dressed as civilians,” the general added.

During World War II, Mattis said, commanders completed missions even when their radios went out. “What kind of officers are we creating if they never turn it off?” he asked. “We must have leaders who can still operate if the technical systems fail.”

Under the conference theme of what combatant and coalition commanders will need in five years, Mattis said commanders must establish a routine practice of working with allies, adding that it is “improbable that America will fight alone” in the future.

“No nation can do this alone,” he said.

In contemporary geopolitics, every nation contributes, the general said. “In the international age, every nation brings something to the table,” he said.

Mattis also spoke of the need for the military to work with the media to win the wars of public opinion.

“Too often, the enemy is winning the battle of the narrative,” Mattis said. Officers’ reluctance to talk to the media is understandable, he acknowledged, but “we need to accept it and stop bemoaning it, and work with the press.”

Mattis also spoke of the need for commanders to enlist troops in “courageous restraint” when using force.

“Sometimes that means killing the enemy, sometimes it means protecting innocent people,” he said. “But more often than not, it means doing both in the same block.”


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Marine Corps Gen. James N. Mattis

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U.S. Joint Forces Command


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