Ash Carter, defense chief who opened the fight for women, dies

WASHINGTON (AP) — Former Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, who opened combat jobs to women and ended a lockdown about transgender people serving in the military has died at the age of 68.

Carter died Monday night after suffering a heart attack in Boston, his family said in a statement Tuesday.

Known as a defense thinker and strategist, Carter was a nuclear expert, three-time Pentagon executive, housekeeping guru, and academic who had served as a defense civilian at the building for 35 years.

General Martin Dempsey, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, remarked at Carter’s retirement ceremony in 2017 that his focus on the less glamorous aspects of the job like human resource management has made him known as the “most important, least known figure in the business.” Washington.”

Carter had not previously served in the military, but he knew the basics of the Department of Defense, a skill that helped him quietly engineer notable changes, particularly when it came to who got to serve in uniform.

In December 2015, after three years of study and debate, Carter ordered the military to open all jobs to women and remove the final barriers that kept women from serving in combat, including the most dangerous and grueling command posts.

“I made the decision to admit women to all military specialties without exception,” Carter said of the decision in a later interview. “They make up 50% of the population. We cannot afford to leave half the population who can do the job off the table if they have the best qualifications.”

The following year, Carter was responsible for ending the ban on transgender troops and said it was the right thing to do.

“Americans who want to serve and can meet our standards should have the opportunity to apply,” Carter said in June 2016, laying out a one-year plan to implement the change. “Our mission is to defend this country and we do not want barriers unrelated to a person’s qualifications to be used to prevent us from recruiting or becoming a soldier, sailor, airman or marine keep whoever can best fulfill the mission.”

Prior to President Barack Obama’s appointment as Secretary of Defense, Carter served in the Obama administration as the Pentagon’s chief procurement officer, overseeing the department’s efforts to ship more than 24,000 mine-resistant Ambush Protected vehicles to Iraq and Afghanistan during the height of both conflicts bring US troops better protect.

Back then, thousands of US troops were maimed or killed by roadside bombs because the vehicles they deployed did not have adequate protection. Carter frequently cited the rapid development and procurement of these vehicles as one of his proudest achievements.

“At its peak, the United States was shipping over 1,000 MRAPs per month to theaters. And they saved lives there,” Carter said at a 2012 ceremony marking the completion of vehicle production. “And you all know me, I would have driven one in here today if I could get it through the door.”

President Joe Biden hailed his contribution to the nation’s defense and said Tuesday Carter takes seriously his “sacred obligation” to the men and women in uniform.

“He has been tireless in finding technological solutions for our war fighters and has expedited the delivery of mine-resistant vehicles to our troops to protect them from improvised explosive devices in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Biden said in a statement. “His work has saved countless lives and limbs.”

Obama said in a statement Tuesday that he “relyed on Ash’s strategic advice as we made long-term investments in innovation and a stronger, smarter, more humane and more effective military.”

On at least one occasion, Carter split with Obama over a notable matter: Obama’s decision to commute Chelsea Manning’s 35-year sentence. Manning was found guilty of espionage in 2013 for leaking classified information while serving as an army soldier in Iraq.

Carter, a native of Philadelphia, served as the 25th Secretary of Defense and “loved nothing more than spending time with the troops and traveling frequently to Iraq and Afghanistan with his wife, Stephanie, to visit the U.S. Forces,” his said family in a statement. “Carter has always put politics aside; he served the presidents of both parties through five administrations.”

Carter was sworn in as Secretary of Defense in February 2015. He was immediately confronted with the rise of the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria and China’s rapid militarization of islands in the South China Sea. During his tenure, Carter oversaw the Obama administration’s “pivot to the Pacific,” an attempt to rebalance military resources and focus on an emerging China. He made several trips to US aircraft carriers in the Pacific as the US increased its naval presence there to counter Beijing’s more aggressive stance.

However, his continued focus on process reform and military modernization, including the creation of a new Defense Innovation Center to more directly connect Silicon Valley to the Pentagon, has sometimes been criticized as being out of touch as the military once again descended into heightened conflict in the Middle East .

“I think he will long be remembered in the halls of the Pentagon as a visionary,” said former Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James, who headed the Air Force during Carter’s tenure as Secretary of Defense, when she announced the Pentagon was the nation’s first new strategic stealth bomber for decades, the B-21 Raider. It will be presented to the public in December.

“Today the entire Department of Defense mourns the loss of a towering intellect, an unwavering leader, a devoted mentor to countless officials, and a great patriot who dedicated his life to strengthening the security of the country he loved,” Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said in a statement .

Carter received bachelor’s degrees in physics and medieval history, summa cum laude, from Yale University and a PhD in theoretical physics from Oxford University. Carter was a Rhodes Fellow, associate professor of physics at Oxford University, postdoctoral fellow at Rockefeller University and MIT, and experimental research associate at Brookhaven and Fermilab National Laboratories.

Carter was most recently director of Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. He is survived by his wife Stephanie and two children.

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Associated Press writer Lolita Baldor contributed to this report from Washington.

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