Military & Veterans News

Statement by Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III on the Passing of Former Secretary of Defense Ash Carter

US Department of Defense

I was deeply saddened to learn of the untimely passing of former Secretary of Defense Ash Carter. Today, the entire Department of Defense mourns the loss of a towering intellect, a steadfast leader, a devoted mentor to countless public servants, and a great patriot who devoted his life to strengthening the security of the country that he loved.

Secretary Carter was a scientist, a scholar, and a strategist. He understood that the United States was, as he put it, “the most important provider of security to the world.” And he dedicated his long and storied career to fortifying our republic and strengthening what he loved to call “the finest fighting force the world has ever known.”

On his road to becoming the 25th Secretary of Defense, Ash Carter served in many capacities at the Pentagon, from setting policy to managing acquisitions. After the fall of the Soviet Union, he helped to remove nuclear weapons from former Soviet republics. During the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, he made it a high departmental priority to procure cutting-edge military capabilities, such as mine-resistant ambush protected (MRAP) vehicles, to keep our warfighters safe on the battlefield. 

He served under 11 Secretaries of Defense, under administrations of both parties, before being nominated for the job himself by President Barack Obama. As Secretary, he was a key player in the fight to defeat ISIS. He was a prescient strategic thinker who was early to grasp the growing significance of the Indo-Pacific, the challenges from the People’s Republic of China, and the necessity of deeper U.S. investments in the region’s security. He also worked tirelessly to strengthen NATO after Russia’s aggression against Ukraine in 2014. And he tore down barriers to service when he made the decision to open all U.S. combat positions to women and announced that transgender Americans could openly serve in the U.S. military. 

A brilliant scholar in his own right, Secretary Carter constantly pushed the Pentagon to “think outside our five-sided box.” He understood early the importance of innovation and technological progress to the overall U.S. defense enterprise. He forged vital new relationships with Silicon Valley, and his legacy continues today in institutions that he started, such as the Defense Innovation Unit and the Strategic Capabilities Office.

In his farewell to the men and women of the Department as his tenure came to a close, Secretary Carter reflected that raising one’s hand to serve is “the noblest thing that a person can do with their life: that is, defend this magnificent country and make a better world for our children." After his tenure, he continued to serve, including his service on President Biden’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology and the Department’s Defense Policy Board. I always deeply valued his wise counsel. And as the director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University, he returned to his roots as a teacher and helped inspire countless students to pursue their own careers in public service.

Secretary Carter was both a defense intellectual and a skillful policymaker who tirelessly sought a more secure America in a more just world. On behalf of the Department of Defense, I send my deepest condolences to his wife Stephanie, his children Ava and Will, and the entire Carter family.

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