Oliver North
WASHINGTON -- On the eve of Operation Iraqi Freedom, the commanding general of the 1st Marine Division distributed a one-page "Message to All Hands." It was a succinct warning to those going into battle about what to expect from the enemy and his expectations for them. His instructions and encouragement on deportment, skill, courage and compassion harkened back to Shakespeare's rendition of Henry V on St. Crispin's Day and Eisenhower's guidance to his troops going ashore at Normandy. The close, an admonition paraphrasing Roman General Lucius Sulla: "Demonstrate to the world there is 'No better friend, no worse enemy' than a U.S. Marine" is now an axiom in the Marine Corps.

Some members of the media who read the letter expressed amazement that a Marine Division Commander -- about to go into combat -- could be so eloquent. Those of us who have known Jim Mattis a very long time weren't surprised at all.

When we first met four decades ago, James N. Mattis was a brand-new 2nd Lt., a bright, enthusiastic student, and I was a tactics instructor at The Basic School (TBS) in Quantico, VA -- where newly-minted Marine officers are introduced to what it means to be an officer of Marines. He had a mischievous glint in his eye, a half-suppressed smile and a can-do spirit that matched his physical fitness. Though nicknamed "Mad Dog" for his speed and agility on the O-Course, he was also a voracious reader. It's my recollection that he was one of the few who completed the lengthy TBS "professional reading list" that began at Sun Tzu, waded through Clausewitz and ended with Vietnam.

While he was a student in 1973, then-Lt. Mattis and Capt. North "co-starred" in a Marine recruiting film that was shot while his class was going through training. His is one of the very few student names audible in the grainy rendition available on YouTube.

After we served in 3rd Division, he told comrades that I had "failed" him in platoon tactics. In 2004, he repeated this story after his "jump command group" repelled an attack on Route Michigan in Anbar Province. Not so. He did have a do-over on a live fire range when I stopped training because the weather made it unsafe to proceed -- but James Mattis never failed at anything in his long service as a U.S. Marine.

His command experience at every rank is extraordinary, even by Marine standards. As a 2nd Lt., Mattis led a rifle platoon and weapons platoon in 3rd Division. While a captain, he commanded a rifle company and Weapons Company in 1st Marine Brigade. As a major, he commanded a recruiting station. As a lieutenant colonel, he commanded 1st Bn., 7th Marines in Operation Desert Storm. And as a colonel, he commanded the entire 7th Marine Regiment.

Oliver North

Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.