Mattis Tells VMI Cadets That War Will be Their Roughest Auditor

The roughest auditor that the young cadets of the Virginia Military Institute will face is war, Defense Secretary James N. Mattis said in Lexington, Virginia, yesterday.

War will test the young cadets’ character, intellect and physical fitness, the secretary said.

“This institution was actually established to develop the professional qualities and the character to meet that auditor … and all of his challengers that he aligned with them on a battlefield, [so] you could meet those challenges without confusion or hesitation when our country needed you,” Mattis said at the storied institute.

VMI has a long and distinguished history. It was founded in 1839 as the first state military institute in America. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson was an instructor at the school before the Civil War and the Corps of Cadets fought at the Battle of New Market in 1864. Its most distinguished graduate was General of the Army George C. Marshall, the architect of victory in World War II, and the author of what came to be known as the Marshall Plan, which provided aid to the war-ravaged parts of Western Europe following the war.

VMI cadets have many great examples to follow, Mattis said. “You’re going to be expected to carry on that legacy,” he said, and while many in the school will not serve in the U.S. military, many will.

The secretary told the cadets that America is “emerging from a period of strategic atrophy.”

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“We’ve written up a National Defense Strategy and we’ve answered the challenges as we’ve defined them,” he said.

These challenges call for three lines of effort, he said. Increasing the lethality of the military is the first line. The second line of effort is strengthening existing alliances and building new ones. The third is to ensure DoD is a good steward of taxpayers’ money.

“VMI has got a key part … in driving progress along the lines of effort like this, because we need sharp young people going into the professions in America, and certainly into the military as well,” Mattis said.

The secretary told the cadets who choose to enter the military that they will be tested in ways that others of their generation will never know. “You will come to know someday and to understand what a privilege it is to be given such tests,” he said.

They will learn about their moral and ethical selves, the secretary said. “For those of you [who] will have seen the moonrise on the far side of the world, you’re going to get some very privileged glimpses into the human heart, as one noted author put it,” Mattis said. “I want you to remember, you only have to win one battle, but it’s one you have to win every day. And that one battle is for the hearts and minds and the trust and affections of the young men and women who are going to be serving alongside you that you outrank, but you’re very, very close to.

(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneDoDNews)