Mattis tells his hometown veterans what the Tri-Cities can teach to a divided nation

Jim Mattis made no bones about his feelings about being free from Washington, D.C.

“I just flew back in from Washington, D.C., so I came here with mixed emotions, I’m so happy I could cry,” he told the hometown crowd shortly after getting a rousing ovation at the Three Rivers Convention Center on Tuesday. “Home is probably the best four-letter word in the English language.”

The former Secretary of Defense and U.S. Marine general told hundreds at the veterans lunch in Kennewick that the Tri-Cities is an example for the rest of world.

Mattis said it was only after returning to the Tri-Cities after spending a lot of his life on the other side of the planet that he could fully appreciate what the area offers.

“I saw a community with improving government, with improving education, improving social services and vibrant service clubs and community organizations that taught you that you weren’t here for yourself that you were here to look out for one another,” he said.

Looking to the future

With an aging baby boomer generation, the challenge is now finding how to develop the future workforce, he said.

He complimented Tuesday’s event for bringing together job seekers, employers, students, veterans groups and community organizations.

“We are here to work together to open doors, to find solutions, to listen and then to act, in unison, to focus on the younger generation,” he said. “I believe the people who leave here will go with a sense of purpose.”

The Connect Tri-Cities event was organized by Mission Support Alliance and dubbed an opportunity fair. Along with helping job seekers, the event also featured a science, engineering, technology and math competition for students.

Bob Wilkinson, MSA president, was happy with the turnout for the event and the invitation-only lunch with Mattis.

United States Marine Corps veteran Anthony Chester, left. takes a photo with Former Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis during Connect Tri-Cities at the Three River-Convention Center in Kennewick. Mattis walked through the event greeting and talking to veterans. Noelle Haro-Gomez Tri-City Herald

Mattis, who stepped down as Secretary of Defense last November, said the Tri-Cities area can be an example for improving the deep political divides nationwide.

The community understands tolerance, cooperation and working hard on the issues, Mattis said. While people may not be perfect, they need to work on improving, he said.

The nation, he said, needs people who demonstrate tolerance and respect in workplaces, educational institutions and communities.

“We should know that we have a responsibility to turn over this great experiment we call America in as good of a condition or better than we found it,” he said. “Working together, like we have today, we can take the steps necessary to do this for our community.”

For the veterans, he said they also can be an example for a nation divided along political lines.

He suggested veterans should respond to anyone who thanks them for their service by saying, “You’re worth it,” regardless of political stance, race, gender, religion, country of origin or anything else.

The veterans have seen the people who threaten the country, and know that they are not the people in America, he said.

“They are not our fellow Americans, no matter how much we disagree,” he said. “Let’s remind our fellow countrymen and women of all types that they are worth it.”

Cameron Probert covers breaking news and education for the Tri-City Herald, where he tries to answer readers’ questions about why police officers and firefighters are in your neighborhood. He studied communications at Washington State University.