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VIDEO: Mattis on border mission name change: ‘I didn’t want arcane military terms’

U.S. Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis speaks to reporters in flight from Bahrain to the Czech Republic, Oct. 28, 2018. (DOD photo by Lisa Ferdinando)
November 14, 2018

On his way to visit troops deployed to the southern border, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis clarified why he directed a change in the border mission’s name.

Mattis told reporters that he gave instructions when he first heard the mission’s name, saying he didn’t want to confuse it with a military mission when it was truly a border support mission, according to ABC News.

“I do not want to put this mission in some arcane military terms. If what we’re doing is laying wire, don’t talk about implementing a barrier plan. That’s what we do in training,” Mattis explained.

Last week, Mattis ordered the Pentagon to stop referring to the border mission as “Operation Faithful Patriot,” the Associated Press reported at the time. A reason was not provided for the change, although U.S. officials reportedly said Mattis disliked the name and believed it posed a distraction from the Border Patrol support mission.

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Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Jamie Davis confirmed that the Pentagon would not continue using the name, and it has not been used in press releases or other official documents since.

“We are not calling it Operation Faithful Patriot, we are calling it a border support mission,” Davis said last week.

Mattis confirmed that the name was a distraction that didn’t provide enough transparency to the general public.

“I want to talk to the American people, because this is a highly politically visible issue and I want you to tell them what we’re doing,” he said, referring to the directive he gave to staffers. “I want you to tell them we are operating in support of Customs or Border Police. Do not say we’re supporting a federal agency. Tell them what we’re doing.”

“When you saw the reporting coming out, it was my continued direction to quit using military terms … quit using terms that mean a lot to us and are subject to misinterpretation by people not trained at Fort Leavenworth,” he added. “That’s all I changed, okay? And that’s the reason for anything that you see.”

Mattis said he’s since made a similar change, directing staffers against using other terms familiar to military personnel, but that may give the wrong impression to civilians.

“I directed this morning not to use ‘secure a certain location,’” he explained. “’Secure’ in military terms means one thing. It’s subject to a whole lot of other interpretations, understandably, by people who use Webster’s dictionary.”

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“I said ‘talk in terms that people understand. It’s their country and their border,’” he added.

Mattis made a brief stop to visit the border mission in Texas today before he travels to the F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming for a ceremony signifying the return of the Bells of Balangiga to the Philippines.