Washington — Ashton Carter, who served as the secretary of defense under former President Barack Obama, died Monday after suffering a heart attack, his family said in a statement. He was 68 years old.
Carter served as the nation's 25th defense secretary and held the role from early 2015 to the end of the Obama administration in January 2017. During his tenure leading the Pentagon, Carter oversaw the military's campaign to defeat ISIS,to women and on transgender people serving in the armed forces.
He most recently led the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government.
"It is with deep and profound sadness that the family of former Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter shares that Secretary Carter passed away Monday evening in Boston after a sudden cardiac event at the age of 68," his family said. "[He] devoted his professional life to the national security of the United States and teaching students about international affairs. He was a beloved husband, father, mentor, and friend. His sudden loss will be felt by all who knew him."
Obama recalled relying on Carter's counsel while serving as president and praised him as a leader "who left America — and the world — safer through his lifetime of service."
"A keen student of history, a brilliant physicist, and a steadfast defender of our men and women in uniform, Ash served presidents of both parties with distinction," Obama said in a statement. "Along the way, he helped create a program that dismantled weapons of mass destruction around the world, and I was proud to appointment him to lead the Department of Defense in 2014."
The former president said Carter's "greatest legacy, however, may be the generations of younger leaders he taught, mentored and inspired to protect our nation and wield power wisely."
President Biden called Carter a "great American of the utmost integrity" and recalled relying on his "fierce intellect and wise counsel" while serving as vice president.
"When I think of Ash Carter, I think of a man of extraordinary integrity. Honest. Principled. Guided by a strong, steady moral compass and a vision of using his life for public purpose," Mr. Biden said in a statement. "Ash Carter was born a patriot."
In addition to honoring Carter's career in government service and academia, the president said Carter "understood the sacred obligation we have to" military members, veterans and their families and praised him for spending many weekends visiting wounded service members at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
"He did so out of the spotlight, demonstrating the personal integrity and sense of duty that distinguished him throughout his life," Mr. Biden said.
Douglas Elmendorf, the dean of the Harvard Kennedy School, called Carter's death "so sudden and so devastating."
"The United States and the world know Ash Carter for his lifelong efforts to serve this country, to defend the best values of this country, and to build a safer world for all people," he wrote in a message to faculty, students and staff.
Carter's career in government service spanned more than three decades under presidents from both parties across five administrations. In December 2015, when announcing that combat roles in the military would be open to women, Carter said the armed forces "must continue to benefit from the best people America has to offer. In the 21st century, that requires drawing strength from the broadest possible pool of talent."
Months later, when announcing that transgender people would be allowed to openly serve in the military, he declared that "Americans who want to serve and can meet our standards should be afforded the opportunity to compete to do so."
Before taking the helm of the Pentagon as defense secretary, he served as deputy secretary of defense and under secretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics. He also held numerous roles in the private sector and at academic institutions, including as a senior executive at the Markle Foundation and senior partner at Global Technology Partners, and adviser on global affairs to Goldman Sachs.
For more than a decade he was a professor of science and international affairs at Harvard's Kennedy School. Carter also served as a physics professor at Oxford University.
Carter is survived by his wife, Stephanie, and two children.
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