Two days with Mad Dog: My short yet memorable time with General Jim Mattis in Iraq

As former Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis recently released a scathing article about President Donald Trump, there has been much back-and-forth about Mattis from political pundits, and the president, who wrote on Twitter, that Mattis is “the world’s most overrated General.”

In the summer of 2012, General Jim Mattis was the head of US Central Command, meaning that he was the four-star general in charge of all US forces in the Middle East and South Asia. When I learned that he was going to be visiting Baghdad and that I was going to be leading his visit, I was thrilled and a bit unnerved because I didn’t want to make a mistake around the guy who was called Mad Dog and Chaos.

It was my job, working with my US military counterparts to put together the visit, which was only two days, each packed full of meetings with representatives from the US Embassy and Iraqi government officials. I won’t bore you with the details of what we did or with whom he met, but I want to tell you the highlights of the things that were most special and memorable to me. I wanted to share my side, albeit however small, of my experiences with him and why I was so impressed.

He’s extremely cordial and respectful.

When General Mattis arrived in Baghdad, I greeted him upon his arrival to the US Embassy. As I was walking him to his accommodations, I shook his hand and introduced myself, saying that I was going to make his visit as impactful and as smooth as possible. “Thank you very much, Parker,” he said, repeating my first name. “I’m looking forward to it.” Just the fact that he immediately said my name back to me let me know that he was listening and his second comment affirmed his readiness to participate in our scheduled events.

He trusted us and was on our team.

When I sat with General Mattis through his numerous meetings (all but his meeting with the Iraqi Prime Minister), he stuck to the talking points we had written for him, which showed two things: first, that he studied the material in advance, and second, that he trusted our advice. Meeting after meeting he vocalized the talking points, which helped us send a clear message to the Iraqis about how we wanted to work with them on various security-related topics.

He showed a deep interest in people.

I’ll never forget the morning of the second day of General Mattis’ visit. I met him and his team outside his accommodations on our way to the chancery for our first meeting of the day. “Good morning, Parker,” he said as he walked out of the building. Again, that he remembered my name meant a lot. As our conversation continued, he asked about me and my background, where I had come from, how I got the assignment to Baghdad, and more. When I told him that I was a reserve intelligence officer in the US Navy, he beamed a smile. “Glad to have you on the team, Parker.”

He loved his Marines.

As the second day of his trip came to an end, General Mattis asked us to assemble the Marine Security Guard detachment so he could speak with them. I had dealt with generals and senior government officials plenty of times, but for these marines, many of whom were in their early 20s, this was something really special. These marines were some of the lowest ranks in the entire service, and here was a guy who was the highest rank, and a man they revered. He spoke to them like he cared about each one, giving them advice on their careers and how hard work, perseverance, and dedication to their mission would take them far in life. He then posed for a picture with the entire unit.

There is probably more I could say, but eight years later, this is what I remember, and what I still remember, because those two days were very impactful and showed the true character of General Jim “Mad Dog” Mattis, call sign Chaos.

You can read more about my experiences at the US Embassy in Iraq.

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