Mattis sends holiday message to military members, and says ‘storm clouds loom’

FILE - DECEMBER 23: FILE - DECEMBER 23: President Trump announced Defense Secretary Mattis will leave office January 1 and Patrick Shanahan will serve as Acting Defense Secretary. ARLINGTON, VA - AUGUST 28: U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis speaks during a press briefing at the Pentagon August 28, 2018 in Arlington, Virginia. Mattis held the briefing with Chairman Of The Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images)
Zach Gibson/Getty Images
Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis

Outgoing Defense Secretary Jim Mattis sent a holiday message to US service members in which he commended them and noted their sacrifice, yet also said, “storm clouds loom.”

Mattis, who is a retired Marine general, resigned his post Dec. 20 in an apparent dispute with President Trump on the decision to withdraw US forces from Syria. Mattis had planned to remain defense chief until late February, to allow for a transition. But his resignation letter was notably critical of Trump, prompting the president to speed up Mattis’s departure to Jan. 1. Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan will be acting defense secretary.

Mattis’s holiday message, posted on Twitter by the Department of Defense and titled “#SecDef Mattis’s Holiday Letter to the Troops,” has seven numbered paragraphs and is in all caps, which may be Pentagon style. It notes the holiday time of year and that many military members are far from home.


Yet it may be tempting to read between the lines of his holiday note, given the tone and content of Mattis’s resignation letter.

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Mattis also recorded a short holiday video the day before he resigned, in which he says, “to all you lads and lasses holding the line in 2018 on land, at sea, or in the air, thanks for keeping the faith.”

His message, sent on Dec. 24, begins:

“1. We in the U.S. military are privileged to defend America, especially at this time of year, for we ensure our fellow Americans celebrate this season of hope in peace and safety.”

The second paragraph is to the point:


“2. We know our freedoms are not guaranteed by themselves; they need defenders.”

The next two paragraphs note that military members “will be serving far from their loved ones. It is difficult work, but this is nothing new: Since Washington crossed the Delaware on Christmas Day in 1776, American troops have missed holidays to defend our citizens’ experiment in democracy.”

The message also says, “in this world awash in change, you hold the line.”

Then the fifth paragraph is:

“Storm clouds loom, yet because of you your fellow citizens live safe at home. Most don’t know your names but all are confident their freedoms and families will be kept safe.”


Mattis says, “you have earned the gratitude and respect of your fellow citizens and it remains my great privilege to serve along side you.”

He ends with:

“7. Merry Christmas and may God hold you safe.”

He does not elaborate on what storm clouds he may see. Speculation on his meaning may reverberate.

Mattis’s holiday video: