Other than commanding combat troops, James Mattis, retired Marine Corps general and President-elect Donald Trump’s likely defense secretary, has served only one stint overseeing Marine combat development and three years on the board of a major defense contractor.

Mattis the general is remembered for implementing counter-insurgency strategy after replacing Gen. David Petraeus – also a potential Trump cabinet member – as chief of U.S. Central Command. Trump announced Mattis as his desired Secretary of Defense during a victory rally in Ohio on Thursday night. He must be both confirmed and granted a waiver from Congress to serve in the position within seven years of retirement from uniformed military service. 

Mattis would be the first general officer to serve in the traditionally civilian post since Gen. George Marshall was given the job in 1950. Prior to that, Marshall served as Secretary of State from 1947 to 1949 to oversee the rebuilding of Europe following World War II. 

Mattis served in several other positions in which he had considerable influence over the strategic direction of Pentagon investment and weapons procurement, including as the head of Marine Corps Combat Development Command from 2005 to 2007 and as chief of U.S. Joint Forces Command (JFCOM) from 2007 to 2010, when he was elevated to CENTCOM chief.

Gen. James Mattis
Gen. James Mattis

As head of the now-dissolved JFCOM, Mattis said Defense Department is likely to see reduction of weapons procurement accounts as the need to allocate more resources to educating and training military personnel grows.

“I think you’re going to see a significant shift,” Mattis said at the time. “Instead of just things we buy–radios, trucks, ships, airplanes–we are going to see a shift in resourcing and priorities to how can we better train people?”

At the time, JFCOM was the Pentagon organization responsible for transforming the military in response to ever-changing threats. As its commander, Mattis said the greatest challenge for the United States will be maintaining its nuclear and conventional military superiority while simultaneously training its force to respond to irregular threats.

He said the Navy of the future, meanwhile, will be asked to conduct sea-basing over a sustained period of time for a significant expeditionary force. The ability to operate against the littorals will also be critical.

“We can’t have a Navy out there that can only fight a blue water fight and then wonder why, again, it keeps getting cut down in size,” he said. “Our naval forces have a lot to bring to the fight if we would simply think differently.”

In 2012, Mattis told the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) in written testimony that capabilities pursued by Iran will require a forceful naval presence in Central Command’s area of responsibility (AOR) as the U.S. ground-based footprint in the region shrinks.

“The stacked Iranian threats in our AOR of ballistic missiles, long range rockets, mines, small boats, cruise missiles and submarines demand stronger naval presence and capability to protect vital sea lines of communication,” Mattis said.

“Demands on our naval forces will only grow in the future,” he said. “I anticipate that we will need more maritime missile defense, anti-fast attack craft capabilities, amphibious ships and mine-countermeasure capability, and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance assets.”

Mattis also said U.S. military leaders see a “new triad” of ground forces emerging in the reshuffle–the Army, Marine Corps and Special Operations troops. Those forces must be highly mobile, he said, but also equipped with armored vehicles that are survivable in an environment where roadside ambushes with high explosives are likely to remain a favorite enemy tactic.

As CENTCOM commander, Mattis was fixated on Iran as the primary threat to U.S. strategic interests in the region, even as civil war flared in Syria and the Islamic State began to rear its head there and in Iraq.

“Despite significant economic sanctions and increased diplomatic isolation within the global community, Iran continues to export instability and violence across the region and beyond,” Mattis said in prepared remarks at the SASC posture hearing.

At the same hearing a year prior, Mattis told the same forum nearly the same thing: “Iran poses the single greatest threat to U.S. interests and to our friends and stability in the region, and poses a global threat through its world-wide proxy network as recent attacks have demonstrated.”

Since retiring from military service in 2013, Mattis – also known as “Mad Dog” and “Chaos” by adoring troops – has served a board member of General Dynamics [GD], which still lists him as a director on its website.

The former Marine General therefore witnessed GD lose the competition to build a new amphibious vehicle. The incumbent was passed over in favor of Science Applications International Corp. [SAI] and BAE Systems, which are now engaged in engineering and testing to win a final contract for the amphibious combat vehicle (ACV) 1.1. GD launched a protest of the engineering and manufacturing development (EMD) contract awards but was overruled. 

He shares GD’s boardroom with retired Army Gen. John Keane, who was Army vice chief of staff until retiring in 2003 and was also vetted for a cabinet position in the Trump administration. Trump has received a parade

Congress must grant him a waiver to serve as secretary of defense within seven years of retirement or change the law that set that separation requirement aimed at preserving civilian control of the military.

Mattis has met with general enthusiasm in congress. Chairmen of both the House and Senate armed services committees have issued statements of their approval.

SASC Chairman Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), said he is “pleased that the President-elect has selected General James Mattis to be his nominee for Secretary of Defense. As Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, I look forward to moving forward with the confirmation process as soon as possible in the new Congress.

“I have had the privilege of knowing General Mattis for many years. He is without a doubt one of the finest military officers of his generation and an extraordinary leader who inspires a rare and special admiration of his troops. General Mattis has a clear understanding of the many challenges facing the Department of Defense, the U.S. military, and our national security. America will be fortunate to have General Mattis in its service once again.”

HASC Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), echoed those thoughts, saying “few individuals in the field of national security are as respected and admired as Jim Mattis. His nomination as Secretary of Defense is an excellent selection, and I am grateful for his willingness to serve in this capacity.  I will work with my colleagues in the coming days to clear the way for his confirmation by the Senate.  I can think of no better partner for Congress to work with to support the men and women who serve and protect our nation’s security.”

Others in Congress have begun to push back against Trump’s seeming desire and intent to stack the Cabinet with generals. He already has appointed controversial former Army Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn as national security adviser. Petraeus is being considered as Secretary of State.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), ranking member on the SASC Subcommittee on Personnel, quickly followed the news of Mattis’ nomination with her intention to oppose his confirmation.

“While I deeply respect General Mattis’s service, I will oppose a waiver,” Gillibrand said. “Civilian control of our military is a fundamental principle of American democracy, and I will not vote for an exception to this rule.”