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Former Defense Secretary Ash Carter dead at 68

Ash Carter testifies into a small microphone at a congressional hearing.

Former Defense Secretary Ashton Carter died Monday evening in Boston of a sudden cardiac event. He was 68.

“It is with deep and profound sadness that the family of former Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter shares that Secretary Carter passed away Monday evening in Boston after a sudden cardiac event at the age of 68,” Carter’s family said in a statement Tuesday.

Carter served as secretary of Defense under President Barack Obama from February 2015 to January 2017. He was also a public policy professor who directed the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard Kennedy School up until his death.

Carter “devoted his professional life to the national security of the United States and teaching students about international affairs,” his family said in the statement. “He was a beloved husband, father, mentor, and friend. His sudden loss will be felt by all who knew him.”

President Joe Biden — who, as vice president, worked with Carter during the Obama administration — said in a statement Tuesday that the former Defense secretary was “a great American of the utmost integrity” and “a leader on all the major national security issues of our times.” Biden said he and Obama had relied on Carter’s “fierce intellect and wise counsel to ensure our military’s readiness,” and that as president he had continued to rely on Carter’s expertise through his role on the White House’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.

“When I think of Ash Carter, I think of a man of extraordinary integrity. Honest. Principled. Guided by a strong, steady moral compass and a vision of using his life for public purpose,” Biden said.

As the nation’s 25th Defense secretary, Carter notably opened all military combat positions to women and ended the ban on transgender troops serving in the military — a policy that remained in place for about a year before President Donald Trump reinstated the ban.

The former Defense secretary had publicly expressed his more hawkish views on war, taking on a more aggressive stance than others in the Obama administration during its campaign to defeat Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. He called for a “lasting defeat” of the Islamic State, launching at the outset of his tenure a reorganization of the United States’ counter-Islamic State campaign that was ultimately successful in helping Iraqi forces seize and hold Islamic State strongholds.

Obama said in a statement Tuesday that he was “proud” to appoint Carter as Defense secretary in 2014, calling him “a steadfast defender of our men and women in uniform.” The former president praised Carter for his investments in improving the military and for helping to create a program to dismantle weapons of mass destruction across the world. But he said Carter’s “greatest legacy” might be “the generations of younger leaders he taught, mentored, and inspired to protect our nation and wield power wisely.”

“Today we mourn the passing of former Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and celebrate a leader who left America — and the world — safer through his lifetime of service,” Obama said in his statement.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Tuesday that he was “deeply saddened” to learn of Carter’s passing and that the entire Defense Department “mourns the loss of a towering intellect” and “steadfast leader.”

“Secretary Carter was both a defense intellectual and a skillful policymaker who tirelessly sought a more secure America in a more just world,” Austin said in a statement.

Pentagon acquisition chief Bill LaPlante on Tuesday also issued a personal statement on Carter’s passing, calling him “a giant in national security” who mentored many people and “inspired us to go into public service.”

“He worked tirelessly to ensure the security of the United States and his contributions will never be forgotten,” LaPlante said. “My thoughts and prayers are with his family during this difficult time.”

Carter served presidents of both parties over five administrations — with his first political appointment to the Pentagon coming from President Bill Clinton in the early 1990s, when he served as the assistant secretary of Defense for global strategic affairs. Carter held several other roles within the Pentagon, including deputy secretary of Defense and undersecretary of Defense for acquisition, technology and logistics.

He also served as a member of the Secretary of State’s International Security Advisory Board, the Defense Policy Board, the Defense Science Board and the National Academy of Sciences Committee on Science and Technology for Countering Terrorism.

Carter began his career as a physicist, receiving a bachelor’s degree in physics and medieval history from Yale University in 1976. He was awarded the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship from the University of Oxford, where he earned his doctorate in physics in 1979.

Carter had a long academic career in addition to his government work. He served as both a professor and the director of the Center for Science and International Affairs in the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. Carter rejoined Harvard as a professor in 2017 and became the director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs — the new name of the center he previously headed at the school.

“He believed that his most profound legacy would be the thousands of students he taught with the hope that they would make the world a better and safer place,” his family said in their statement.

Harvard Kennedy School Dean Douglas Elmendorf announced Carter’s passing to faculty and students on Tuesday in a note that praised the former Defense secretary for being “an important leader of the Kennedy School during the past five years.” He described Carter’s passion for working with students and lauded his contributions to the school, namely in helping with faculty recruitment and expanding curriculum on public policy and technology.

“For my part, I want to offer my gratitude for his insight and wisdom, his unwavering commitment to trying to make the world better, his confidence that the Kennedy School can make an important difference in the world, his generous spirit toward his students and colleagues, and his warm and gracious friendship with me,” Elmendorf said in the announcement. “I will miss him so much.”

Source politico.com

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