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Defense Secreatary James Mattis speaks to VMI cadets, discusses plans for military

LEXINGTON, Va. – Virginia Military Institute cadets got an inside look at the Defense Department and some advice from the general who heads it. 

Defense Secretary James Mattis talked to the corps Tuesday and gave them a chance to ask some questions. 

“One, he is a legend, and with that being said what really spoke to me is that he was speaking to everyone,” said Jessica Slakman, S5 captain for VMI. 

The corps of cadets erupted in applause when the general arrived. He even shared some of the challenges he faced when he took on his new role.

“'Show me the strategy,' I said, 'I am ready to read it,' and they shuffled around and said, 'We don't have one.' That was my indication we have a problem. This is not a political statement. This went back over 10 years,” Mattis said.

Putting politics aside, Mattis focused on efforts to keep the country safe from adversaries, through alliances, lethal military weapons and modernizing the line of defense. 

“We cannot think that because they don't want to fight our way we can simply just opt out," he said.

"What’s going to happen on cyber, because the Department of Defense has 95 percent more of the capability to protect the country on cyber, we are probably going to offer  banks, public utilities and plants the opportunity to be inside a government-protected domain."

Mattis said the Department of Defense is actively protecting the upcoming November midterm elections and beyond.

“We cannot be dominant and irrelevant at the same time. (We cannot) be able to fight ground battles, but unable to fight in cyberspace or outer space so we are working on it,” Mattis said.  

Cadets tell Ten News they walked away inspired and more vigorous in their desire to serve their country, especially for women. 

“I mean now I am going to work even harder because it came from him. It's a man’s world and I think that us girls, we are bringing it and we are persevering and we are coming back through,” said Slakman.

 The general left the cadets with these sentiments: “Have faith, my fine young cadets. We are going to pull through this and we been through worse than this.”