Former Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter dies unexpectedly at the age of 68

Former Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter has died unexpectedly at the age of 68, according to his family.

Carter died Monday night in Boston of a “sudden heart attack.”

From February 2015 to January 2017 he was Secretary of Defense under former President Barack Obama.

PHOTO: President Barack Obama listens as Secretary of Defense Ash Carter delivers a speech at the Pentagon Memorial September 11, 2016 in Arlington, Virginia.

President Barack Obama listens as Secretary of Defense Ash Carter delivers a speech at the Pentagon Memorial September 11, 2016 in Arlington, Virginia.

Leigh Vogel/WireImage/Getty Images, FILE

Carter, who attended Yale University and was a Rhodes Scholar, joined the Defense Department under former President Bill Clinton. He later served as Undersecretary for Procurement, Technology and Logistics from 2009 to 2011 and Deputy Secretary of Defense from 2011 to 2013.

He was nominated to replace Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense in December 2014. In February 2015 he was confirmed by the Senate with 93:5.

“As secretary, he launched the successful campaign to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria, opened up all combat positions to women and forged new links between the Defense Ministry and the country’s technology community,” his family said in a statement. “While known for his keen understanding of military technology, nuclear weapons and international affairs, Secretary Carter loved nothing more than spending time with the troops and frequently traveling to Iraq and Afghanistan to visit US forces [with his wife Stephanie].”

He was survived by his wife and two children, Ava and Will.

PHOTO: Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter answers questions during a press briefing at the Pentagon July 25, 2016.

Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter answers questions during a press briefing at the Pentagon on July 25, 2016.

Anadolu Agency/Getty Images, FILE

In addition to leading the US offensive against ISIS, Carter oversaw a period at the Department of Defense that lifted all restrictions on women’s military service and lifted a ban on transgender members of the military, a rule later revised by the then President Donald Trump was repealed.

Carter joined the Belfer Center at Harvard University’s Kennedy School after leaving government, where he has served as director for the past five years. He had taught at the Kennedy School in the 1980s before joining the US government.

Douglas Elmendorf, dean of the Harvard Kennedy School, wrote of his friend: “I want to express my gratitude to him for his insight and wisdom, his unwavering commitment to making the world a better place, his belief that the Kennedy School can make an important difference in the world, his generous spirit towards his students and colleagues, and his warm and gracious friendship with me. I will miss him so much.”

ABC News’ Mark Osborne contributed to this report.

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