"Senator, I've never come into a job with a preformed agenda of changing anything," Mattis said. "I come in assuming people before me deserve respect for the job they did and the decisions they made."
Gillibrand quoted Mattis' comments in which he compared the integration of women on the front lines to mixing different types of arrows.
"I was not in a position to go back into government when I made those statements," Mattis told Gillibrand. His comments were delivered in a speech to the Marines' Memorial Club in San Francisco after he retired from the military.
"I'm coming in with the understanding that I lead the Department of Defense, and if someone brings me a problem, then I'll look at it," Mattis said today. "But I'm not coming in looking for problems. I'm looking for ways to get the department so it's at the most lethal stance.
"I have no plan to oppose women in any aspect of our military," Mattis concluded.
President-elect Donald Trump has called President Barack Obama's decision to open combat roles to women "politically correct" and has linked it to the military's problems with sexual assault, but he has not said he would reverse the decisions.
Gillibrand also briefly questioned Mattis about his beliefs regarding members of the LGBT community serving in the military.
“Frankly, Senator, I’ve never cared much about two consenting adults and who they go to bed with,” Mattis said.
In addition to Obama's historic decision to allow openly gay service members, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced last June that transgender Americans may also serve openly without fear of separation.