Commanding Presence

Commanding Presence

General James Mattis respected by CWU veterans, past and present

Mattis and Cadre 7500 copy

Veterans have always played an important role in CWU’s campus culture, with many well-known alumni going on to pursue successful careers in the military after graduation.

Retired General James “Jim” Mattis, the nation’s 26th Secretary of Defense, is undoubtedly the most well-known veteran with a CWU degree, but he’s not the only marquee name on the list of accomplished veterans who have ties to the university. Other notable Wildcats from over the years include Douglas Munro, Cortland Carmody, Richard Iverson, and John R. Croft.

CWU Veterans Center Director Ruben Cardenas rarely misses a chance to promote these service members’ connections to the institution, referencing veterans like Mattis in recruitment materials as a way of inspiring students on campus.

“He’s one of the more popular service members or officers who are CWU alumni, mostly because of the status or ranks he’s risen to and accomplished,” Cardenas said of Mattis, a Marine Corps veteran of 44 years who served as Secretary of Defense from 2017-19.

“There have been numerous occasions where you’re interacting with new students in our space (the Veterans Center) and they see a picture of General Mattis on the rack card,” he continued. “Some people know who he is, and they didn’t know he was a Central alum, and then they get really excited. They’re following in his footsteps to a certain extent.”

Mattis, a native of Richland, enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve at 18, graduating from CWU in 1971 before being commissioned as a second lieutenant. He said he had not committed to a career in the military while attending Central, but knew he would serve in some capacity.

“In 1969, the draft was on,” Mattis said. “We all knew, or assumed when we came out of college, we would probably be drafted. The options—run away to Canada or something—were not good, and so we had to go … I’d chosen to go into the Marine Corps, rather than be drafted when I came out of school.”

Mattis spent more than four decades serving the Marines at all levels, from infantry rifle platoon to a Marine Expeditionary Force. He said the people he worked with made him decide to continue his career in military service.

“I just liked the people, and that just led me into sticking around for a while,” Mattis said. “I realized I’d rather have, at times, a crummy job and work with great people than have great jobs and work with anything less, and so I thought that I’d found the best people.”

Throughout his career, Mattis has come across others who are proud Wildcats like he is. The difference tended to disappear once they started talking about Central’s football team, he said.

“I ran into them all the time,” Mattis said. “I remember one of them talking to me on the radio because he knew what unit they were supporting on the ground. When I was talking to the pilot in the air, he let me know he was a Wildcat. He was a Navy pilot coming in hot to help us out.”

Mattis has made return trips to Ellensburg to visit with friends he made during his time at CWU. He has also stayed in contact with several of his former Muzzall Hall colleagues, even attending a reunion in 2016.

He said the friendships, walking the campus, and playing sports remain some of his favorite memories from his college days.

“Central was a wonderful place to make friends—lifelong friends,” he said.

Alumni Connections

Mattis still plays a prominent role in the military today, and his connections to CWU continue to inspire Wildcats from the past, present, and future.

Major Joseph Siemandel, a CWU alum who now works at Camp Murray in Tacoma, met Mattis for the first time this summer while filming a public service announcement of Mattis urging people to wear masks to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“It was such an amazing day to meet a guy like that, and have that in common where we went to school,” Siemandel said.

Siemandel serves as the state’s public affairs officer for the Washington National Guard, and he knows many CWU graduates who have served. He graduated in 2008 with a degree in public relations and minors in journalism and military science.

“There are a ton of Central graduates and Central students that are in the National Guard,” he said. “I feel like you can’t go more than six people without running into a connection.”

Siemandel says he tries to make the trip back to Ellensburg once a year to visit his alma mater. And he’s not alone.

“Every Guardsman has that same feeling when you go to Central—it was home for four years, so you always want to go back,” he said.

Another CWU grad and former Marine who had the opportunity to work on an assignment with Mattis was Dan Burke, who was in the Marines from 2006-11. Although the two alums never officially crossed paths, Burke provided security for the officers’ homes at the Washington Navy Yard while he was working at the Marine barracks. One of his jobs was to guard the neighborhood where Mattis lived for a period of time.

Burke said one of the highlights from his career was working at Camp David in Maryland, where he protected the president and any visiting heads of state. While stationed there, he had the opportunity to meet Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

“When a president goes to Camp David—because he’s on our base—he’s our responsibility,” Burke said. “We get to see the funny things behind the scenes like Bush crashing on a mountain bike. It’s a little surreal, but you get desensitized when you see these people all the time.”

While Mattis didn’t personally know most of the Wildcats he has encountered over the years, he said their conversations often drifted to wishing they were back in Ellensburg, a calming thought when they were stationed in less-inviting places.

“It was interesting to be in the military,” Mattis said. “You’d be talking about what country you’re in and you’d see that America is a country that always criticized itself. It’s never complacent, always finds problems, keeps working to get better. When you were overseas and saw what other people lived with, and saw how they lived in poverty or in countries that didn’t have the same freedom, you realized the country didn’t have to be perfect to be worth fighting for. As long as it was trying to get better, that’s all that mattered.”

Through the Ranks

Central boasts a large number of alumni who have had successful military careers. The roster of those who served after college includes:

• Colonel Richard “Dick” Iverson accepted a commission with the U.S. Air Force after graduation so he could complete his pilot training. During his career, he flew more than 10 different types of military aircraft, commanded the 528th Bomb Squadron, and served in various staff, executive, and command positions. Iverson, who graduated with honors from Central in 1967, died in October 2017.

• Colonel Brad Klippert is commander of the Washington State Guard
and a member of the Washington House of Representatives serving the 8th
District (R-Kennewick). Klippert, who earned his paramedic training
certification at CWU in 1983, is a deputy sheriff with the Benton County
Sheriff’s Office.

• Brigadier General Myron Dobashi serves as the assistant adjutant
general and commander of the Hawaii Air National Guard, where he
oversees the training and readiness of the Hawaii Air National Guard. He
graduated from CWU in 1965.

• Brigadier General John R. Croft is the chief of staff at the Wisconsin Air National Guard, where he oversees the Air Guard’s headquarters staff, evaluates the capabilities of the Air Guard units, and advises the state’s National Guard commanders. He graduated from CWU in 1972.

• Colonel Brad Readnour is a Deputy Division Chief at Headquarters US Air Force Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance and Cyber Effects Operations, at the Pentagon. He has served over 28 years in both the Air Force and Army. Readnour graduated from CWU in 2000.

• Colonel Curtis Schroeder is US Army Forces Command (FORSCOM) Provost Marshal at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. In that role, he provides guidance on law enforcement and security matters. Schroeder graduated from CWU in 1994 as a Distinguished Military Graduate.

Service Above Self

Over the years, some notable Central alumni have paid the ultimate price while serving their country. Among those who have died in combat are:

• Douglas Munro, a native of South Cle Elum, briefly attended Central and is regarded as the most famous member of the U.S. Coast Guard. Munro was a signalman first class of the United States Coast Guard, who died heroically on Guadalcanal on Sept. 27, 1942, after saving 500 Marines. Munro volunteered to evacuate a detachment of Marines who were facing annihilation by an unanticipated enemy force, and he was mortally wounded during his rescue efforts.

“Douglas Munro is arguably more local than James Mattis because he’s from Cle Elum and he was awarded the Medal of Honor, the highest honor you can receive as a service member,” said Ruben Cardenas, director of the CWU Veterans Center.

Munro graduated from Cle Elum High School in 1937 and attended the Central Washington College of Education for a year before leaving in 1939 to enlist in the Coast Guard. Munro was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor and the Purple Heart Medal. Carmody-Munro Hall on the Ellensburg campus is named in his honor.

• Cortland Carmody attended Central before enlisting in the Army Air Corps. After completing pilot training, Carmody was assigned to a fighter group in France. On August 6, 1944, Carmody was flying a P-38J Lightning over France. Another member of his squadron, who had taken off late, attempted to catch up to the formation and, in his haste, accidentally collided with Carmody’s aircraft, killing both pilots. His name on Carmody-Munro Hall honors his service.

• Clifton “Clif” Alford, a Central graduate who served as a pilot in the Army Air Corps during World War II. Alford, who flew a B-17 bomber, died on August 4, 1944, when his plane was struck by an anti-aircraft flak shell while on a bombing run over France. Alford-Montgomery Hall is named in his honor.

• Hamilton “Ham” Montgomery, a Central graduate, served as a pilot in the Army Air Corps during World War II. On December 26, 1945, Montgomery was piloting an Army transport plane on the China-India-Burma front when his plane encountered mechanical difficulties and crashed, killing everyone on board. Alford-Montgomery Hall on the Ellensburg campus also bears his name.

• San DeWayne Francisco, who graduated from Central in 1966, served as a pilot during the Vietnam War. In 1968, just six days before he was to return home, Francisco volunteered to fly a reconnaissance mission in place of another aviator who had become ill and was shot down. In spite of ongoing recovery efforts, his remains still lie in a Vietnamese jungle. To recognize his sacrifice, two “Chairs of Honor,” have been placed on the CWU campus. The empty chairs, named in Francisco’s honor, commemorate prisoners of war and those missing in action.

• Staff Sgt. Bryan Christopher Black, who graduated from Central in 2002, was serving as a Special Forces medical sergeant when he and three fellow Special Forces soldiers were killed in action during an ambush in southwest Niger in 2017. Black earned the Ranger Tab and Special Forces Tab while in the Army.

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