Fayetteville, N.C. — President-elect Donald Trump brought his Thank You USA tour to Fayetteville Tuesday night and used the event to formally announce his intention to nominate James Mattis to the position of Secretary of Defense.
The pick, which was unofficially announced last week, means the retired Marine Corps general will be the first career officer to lead the Pentagon since just after World War II.
“He is one of the most effective generals that we’ve had in many, many decades. One of the exceptional leaders of our time who has committed his life for the love of our country,” Trump said. “The American people are fortunate that a man of this integrity and character will now be the civilian leader of the department of defense.”
Current law states that a defense secretary must be retired for seven years to serve, so Mattis, who retired in 2013, would require a waiver from Congress to take the position.
“I look forward to being the civilian leader as long as Congress gives me the waiver and the Senate agrees to consent,” Mattis said during brief remarks Tuesday night.
Prior to introducing Mattis, Trump spoke at length about an action plan to rebuild the military and protect veterans. He vowed to make the armed forces stronger but said he plans to focus spending on infrastructure rather than fighting overseas.
“We build up our military, not as an act of aggression, but as an act of prevention. In short, we seek peace through strength,” he said. “We don’t want to have a depleted military because we’re all over the place, fighting in areas we shouldn’t be.”
During his 40 minute speech, Trump touched on familiar campaign points of reforming and repealing the Affordable Care Act, creating affordable and accessible childcare and halting illegal immigration.
“We will be the administration that ended illegal immigration,” Trump promised. “We want people to come in, but they have to do it legally.”
Trump’s rally began nearly an hour late after weather issues forced his plane to land at Raleigh-Durham International Airport instead of in Fayetteville, but Trump said that it was important to get to the rally to thank supporters who elected him.
“I’m here today for one main reason, to thank you, the people of North Carolina, for being so incredible. You went out and pounded the pavement…and propelled to victory a grassroots movement the likes of which nobody has seen before,” Trump said.
Although the 10,000 seat arena was not filled to capacity, crowds lined up early Tuesday afternoon with hopes of getting in the door for the event. Robert Fleming drove from Raleigh with his grandson, Andrew, and said the day is about more than just seeing the president-elect in person.
“This is history, and we’re proud of Mr. Trump and what he’s going to do for America,” Fleming said.
Hundreds of people stood in the rain in order to catch a glimpse of the man they elected, including an Army veteran from Fayetteville who couldn’t help but get emotional.
“He’s the man I voted for. I think he picked the right man, Pence. He was good for Indiana,” said Frank Foster.
A special thank you to our friends at WRAL for helping out with this post.