WASHINGTON – In a farewell ceremony Monday at the Pentagon, outgoing Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter plowed through seemingly exhaustive list of acknowledgements and goodbyes. It included, but was not limited to, the Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and his deputy, the Joint Chiefs themselves, all the service secretaries, the combatant commanders, a constellation of deputy secretaries and his own staff members. Many he called out by name.
But Carter, 59, didn’t tear up until after he turned to address the unidentified members of the military honor guard that stood with him, whom he called “so magnificent, so proud, so young – our future.”
Then Carter, who will leave the Pentagon on Wednesday after spending some of his final days on the job in Afghanistan celebrating Thanksgiving with troops, reeled off another list – this time composed of his hopes for America’s military members.
At the top of his list was an honest-to-goodness win in Afghanistan. It’s in the country’s grasp, he said, and making sure it happens will maintain America’s “reputation as a country that defeats its foes and keeps its commitments to its friends”
He also said he hopes military members will soon emerge from the drudgery of the long wars that followed the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
“I hope that we continue to turn a strategic corner, to leave behind the era of Iraq and Afghanistan and Osama bin Laden, and face this department towards the challenges and opportunities that will define the future for you, our successors as soldiers and citizens,” he said.
The Pentagon’s former chief of acquisitions, Carter said he hoped troops would continue to be supplied with most advanced weapons and afforded the latest life-saving medical care. As he’s done countless times in recent years, he took shots at the forced budget cuts brought on by sequestration.
“It’s dispiriting to and unworthy of the patriots, military and civilians who serve this government,” he said. “Most seriously it embarrasses us in front of friends and allies, and also potential opponents.”
Carter received an award during the ceremony from Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who declared “The men and women of the department have had no better friend and will have no better friend than Ash Carter.” Moments earlier, he’d received one from Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey, who poked fun at him for being a “middle aged uber wonk” but then called him the most powerful least-known person in Washington, happy as he “worked without glamor or fame behind the scenes.”
White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough praised Carter for agility in management of the acquisitions process to support troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. As detailed in a recent New York Times article, Carter led the process to quickly supply MRAPs when IEDs began injuring more troops in the war zones.
“He is a guy who is influenced not by ideology, but by facts,” McDonough said. He went on to call the outgoing deputy secretary “a man of science, a man of data, and ultimately, a man of action.”