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Secretary of Defense Speech

Remarks by Secretary Mattis at Portrait Unveiling in Honor of Former Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter

Remarks as Delivered by James Mattis, The Pentagon, Washington, DC, Feb. 2, 2018

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Good morning, everyone and thank you for being here. I would just tell you some things are duty, some things are fun, and this one is fun. It is a pleasure to be presenting today this portrait as we remember a lifetime of service.

Secretary Perry – our old boss, for both of us at one point – for the extraordinary effort you made to come here, and I realize you have to fly back halfway around the world when you leave here. Thanks so much. Ambassador Sir Kim Darroch, for all the ambassadors who are here, thank you for coming and reminding us of the connection between our diplomats and our military. Mr. McDonough – can you believe this. It would have caused you great fear, I think, a few short months ago, you know… but thank you so much for being here old friend. Director Clapper, so many of you who are here, Senator Lugar, Congresswoman Harmon, Congressman McKeon, Mr. Adams – where are you, sir? Waive your hand please… Thank you for doing the work that we celebrate here today. You’re a great artist.

Over two hundred luminaries are either here or want to be here, and have sent their acknowledgment in writing… public servants, patriots, Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and friends…

And I would just tell you, Mr. Secretary, Ash, welcome back and welcome home, for you know this building intimately, to say the least. Over a period of 35 years, here’s a man who served both parties and, count them, 11 secretaries of defense altogether. We’re touched by the unselfish performance of this leader.

We honor your service today, Ash, as our secretary, but we keep in mind how you placed your country’s security first, long before destiny tapped you on the shoulder to be our secretary. And destiny did not find you lacking except, perhaps, at age 11 when, I’m told you told your first boss something that caused you to be fired from your first job for “wise-mouthing,” which would not surprise any of us who have been in high council with him. But I would say you were a promising young man and, even then, willing to speak truth to power.

You join a long line of academics-turned-guardians of our democracy, in the company of such titans as Paul Nitze and Dr. William Perry. Each of them in their own unique ways served the same end: to frustrate America’s adversaries and defend our experiment in democracy. You did the same thing, Ash, and we cannot be surprised, because you were the son of a World War Two veteran. The defense of this country was put in your DNA. You’re a native of the “city of brotherly love,” and if they win the Super Bowl, we will see it demonstrated in very unusual ways…

This is a Philly lad who double-majored in physics and medieval history at Yale, which is the third oldest university in the United States. Then he earned a Rhodes scholarship to study theoretical physics at Oxford, which is the oldest university in the English-speaking world, and eventually returning to his native soil with his doctorate in theoretical physics.

He then taught that fairly straightforward discipline to other underachievers at no less distinguished a place than Harvard, which is the oldest institution of higher education in the United States. There are a lot of elderly things in your resume, sir…

But it’s the measure of the man that, having mastered the most rigorous of sciences, Ash Carter placed his razor-sharp mind at the service of his country, beginning the process of becoming the scholar-statesman we honor here today.

I first met Ash in 1994, when I was Secretary Perry’s Executive Secretary. Those privileged to serve in the Department of Defense then will recall an international environment nearly unrecognizable from today’s: the Soviet Union’s breakup left nuclear-tipped missiles in silos across former USSR countries, and I had a front row seat to Secretary Perry and his acolyte, Ash Carter, orchestrating the destruction of the old Soviet ICBM silos, plowed over to make room for sunflowers or fields of wheat.

That didn’t happen by accident, and it’s good to recall those days, because it came through congressional leadership embodied by Senators Nunn and Lugar. Yet their legislation required someone in the executive branch to turn legislative vision into reality – that’s how our system works and is structured – it takes all of us, working together. Congress legislates; the executive branch executes, and execute Ash did. Secretary Perry turned to him to make things happen, and it’s largely due to Ash that those weapons are not in arsenals today.

Mr. Secretary, we and countless others across the continent – and other continents – are eternally grateful to you for the largely unheralded part you played, and that you continue to play, on the defense policy and science boards.

Yet, your foresight would not permit you to rest on those laurels. We still recall that your country’s security needs meant that you would be called again to serve as undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics. And you applied yourself to those new challenges to support America’s warriors in now a new and radically changed age. Few were surprised when you assumed the role of deputy secretary of defense.

Yet as profound as your service proved in your decades of service, you were next but a few weeks at Stanford enjoying a more leisurely pace when the President and destiny tapped you again on the shoulder to return to the colors. I still recall you and I standing there on the sunlit campus as we bid farewell to one another, little knowing that one day we would shake hands again in Washington, DC.  You were on your way back to the Pentagon, and I began praying for you immediately…

So it was once more into the fray with you. This time you would be our secretary, a job for which fate or providence had well-prepared you. You came into office facing a grave challenge in the Middle East, as a barbarian caliphate sought to impose its brutality and butchery upon millions. Under your leadership, America’s military summoned the strength to answer this challenge.

At the same time, your tenure was marked by a time of new approaches in technology, space and cyberspace, and I know Dr. Perry, you smiled sir, as Ash made his mark in each of those areas – and as our old boss, we know that you were with us all the way…

Rest assured this department still bears the indelible imprint of Ash and Dr. Perry’s legacy – that counterproliferation is a priority – and in Silicon Valley where you established DIUx, which was one of my first destinations when I entered this role, and it will live on, and it will prosper.

As our National Defense Strategy emphasizes today, America must “expand the competitive space,” and you had identified Silicon Valley as one of America’s reservoirs of strength.

In cyberspace – one area that we will do that, for we must not be dominant and at same time irrelevant… We will expand the competitive space there, and the same goes for every competitive domain of warfare – doors that you opened that I will continue to walk through. And your impact has directly benefited me as a result, so I want to say thank you publicly, in front of people who know that I’m not giving false praise here that you did this.

Now, we will hang your portrait in the secretary of defense corridor of the Pentagon’s E-ring, where I walk out every night and watch the eyeballs follow me in each of those portraits, and I say ‘give me a break, I’m working on it…’

And all those who come through this magnificent building, with all of the displays which really celebrate the humanity of those who since 1775 have fought for this experiment… Everyone’s going to look at your photo and realize, once again, that when times are at their worst, America can still put forth committed public servants at their best.

It’s a reminder that, no matter how tough the times, our free society will always provide the leaders necessary to defend the blessings of liberty in their time and for the future generations whom we owe the same freedoms you and I enjoy today.

Secretary Carter, you were one of those who carried this leadership mantle. Thank you for your leadership in a time of peril.

And I would like to read a few words from Secretary Panetta, who regrettably could not be here and asked that I recognize his respect for you publicly. He gave me a rather long letter, but he wants to say “thank you for supporting me during my tenure as director of the CIA and, in particular, as my deputy when I was secretary of defense. You have been an impeccable example of how important it is to link moral and emotional intelligence to the formulation of public policy, and how leadership at the highest levels demands a reasonable and civil tone, a suspicion of ideas untested by experience, and the exercise of power, disciplined by integrity.”

I think our former secretary sums it up very well. So Mr. Secretary, if you would join me at the portrait…

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