Kerry: "I have big heels to fill" as secretary of state

Secretary of State John Kerry speaks to State Department employees upon arrival at the State Department on February 4, 2013 in Washington, DC. Kerry, the former head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, replaced Hillary Clinton on February 1. MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images

Kicking off his first day as the head of the State Department today, newly-minted Secretary of State John Kerry marked the beginning of his tenure with a short address to his new team, briefly outlining his top priorities for the department while thanking both the president and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for their commitment to him as well as their advocacy for American values on the world stage.

Kerry, whose remarks were relatively brief and informal, particularly thanked Clinton and her team for having "tirelessly advocated the values of our country," and wondered, quippily, "can a man actually run the State Department? I don't know."

"The nation is grateful, the world is grateful. Thank you Hillary Clinton, and thank you, her team," Kerry said. "As the saying goes, I have big heels to fill."

Relaying a few anecdotes from his personal history - including the use of his first diplomatic passport, which he said showcased an 11-year-old, 4'3'' John Kerry, to ride his bike into East Berlin - the former senator said that as much as the Senate was "in his blood," the Foreign Service "is in my genes."

"I have things to learn," he said. "Some of what I've learned is how difficult life can be for people in the Foreign Service... I understand that. I also understand how critical it is that you have somebody there advocating for you. The dangers could not be more clear."

Citing the deaths of the four Americans who died in Benghazi during September 11 terrorist attacks, Kerry said, "I know everybody here still mourns that loss... I will not let their patriotism and their bravery be obscured by politics."

"Everything I do will be focused on the security and safety of our people," Kerry said. "I'm here today to ask you on behalf of the country, I need your help. President Obama needs your help. To help us to do everything we can to strengthen our nation and to carry those ideals out in the world. Here we can do the best of things that you can do in government. That's what excites me."

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