Not only has Secretary of Defense James Mattis defended the deployment of active-duty troops to the U.S.-Mexico border in response to multiple migrant caravans, but he responded to criticism of the military being deployed through Thanksgiving.
As Defense Secretary Mattis tours the border, where nearly 6,000 troops are stationed, fmr Defense official @kellymagsamen isn’t mincing words. She says these troops will miss Thanksgiving with their families “for a political stunt.” pic.twitter.com/vTTFyYvTic— Brooke Baldwin (@BrookeBCNN) November 14, 2018
Deploying troops to our own border for no national security reason is one of the biggest scandals of this Presidency. These dedicated, skilled, highly trained men and women will likely miss Thanksgiving w family, are near American cities but eating MREs. Let them go home.— Brian Schatz (@brianschatz) November 11, 2018
“And then...do you believe that these forces are going to be deployed, you know, through Thanksgiving, potentially through Christmas. What would you say to their families, who are wondering how long this deployment's going to last,” a reporter asked while on route to Texas.
“Yeah. I mean, I've got the troops deployed from Syria and Iraq to the Pacific,” Mattis replied, according to the DOD transcript. “They're out in the Atlantic. You saw that we just finished one of the largest NATO exercises, and the troops have just — the ships have just pulled into our NATO ally, Portugal's port of Lisbon. We are going to continue to have troops deployed, and this is just for our military.”
“Rain or shine, light or dark, cold weather or hot weather — we have an all-weather force that's on duty 24/7,” he continued. “Drive around the Pentagon on Thanksgiving Day, and look at the number of cars in the parking lot of people who work right through the holidays. Some of you were with me when we were at Guantanamo Bay last Thanksgiving timeframe. Troops were down there.”
“Kind of, all I can say to the American people: Welcome to your military. It's on duty,” Mattis concluded.
The trip Mattis was referring to was during the Christmas season in 2017, where he went on a four base tour to visit and talked with troops, include those stationed at Guantanamo Bay.
“Our country needs you,” he told the troops in Cuba, according to the AP. “It’s also the example you set for the country at a time it needs good role models; it needs to look at an organization that doesn’t care what gender you are, it doesn’t care what religion you are, it doesn’t care what ethnic group you are. It’s an organization that can work together.”
This talking point from critics of the deployment is showing just how far the civilian-military divide has become. Being deployed during times when you would rather be home is part of service and sacrifice people talk about while serving: putting the country's needs before your own. It’s what makes military service so honorable.
Of course the troops at the border would rather be home for Thanksgiving, but they knew what they had signed up for when they swore to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”
Mattis himself is no stranger to not being home for the holidays. There’s even a famous story of when Mattis took over duty from a young officer so he could be home with his own family for Christmas.