Former U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter dies at 68

WASHINGTON (AP) — Ash Carter, who as defense secretary in the final two years of the Obama administration opened military combat jobs to women and ended a ban on transgender people serving in the military, has died at age 68.

Carter died after suffering a heart attack on Monday evening, according a statement Tuesday from Douglas Elmendorf, dean of Harvard University’s Kennedy School. Carter had served as director of the school’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.

Before Carter was named the Defense Department secretary, he served in President Barack Obama’s administration as its top procurement officer and oversaw the department’s effort to speed more than 24,000 Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles to Iraq and Afghanistan. At the time, thousands of U.S. troops were being maimed or killed by roadside bombs because there was not adequate protection in the vehicles they were operating. Carter frequently mentioned the rapid development and procurement of those vehicles as one of his proudest accomplishments.

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

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

The following year, Carter ended the ban on transgender troops serving in the U.S. military, saying it was the right thing to do.

“Americans who want to serve and can meet our standards should be afforded the opportunity to compete to do so,” Carter said in June 2016, laying out a one-year plan to implement the change. “Our mission is to defend this country, and we don’t want barriers unrelated to a person’s qualification to serve preventing us from recruiting or retaining the soldier, sailor, airman, or Marine who can best accomplish the mission.”

Carter, a Philadelphia native, served at the 25th defense secretary and “loved nothing more than spending time with the troops, making frequent trips to Iraq and Afghanistan to visit U.S. forces with his wife Stephanie,” his family said in a statement. “Carter always set politics aside; he served presidents of both parties over five administrations.”


Ash Carter began his career as a physicist. After a brief experience as an analyst for the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment, he switched careers to public policy. He joined the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University in 1984 and became chair of the International & Global Affairs faculty.[3] Carter served as Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Policy during President Clinton’s first term, from 1993 to 1996, responsible for policy regarding the former Soviet states, strategic affairs, and nuclear weapons.

During President Obama’s first term, he served first as Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics and then Deputy Secretary of Defense until December 2013. In February 2015, he replaced Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense and served until the end of the Obama administration.

A notable act during his tenure at the department was his end of the ban on transgender officers in the military, which remained in place for only a year before the Trump administration reinstated it. In 2016, Carter opened all military occupations and positions to women, without exception. This would mark the first time in U.S. history that women with the appropriate qualifications would be allowed to contribute to areas of the military, such as infantry, armor, reconnaissance, and some special operations units, that had previously been open only to men.

For his service to national security, Carter had on five occasions been awarded the DOD Distinguished Public Service Medal. He had also received the CJCS Joint Distinguished Civilian Service Award, and the Defense Intelligence Medal for his contributions to intelligence. Carter was author or co-author of 11 books and more than 100 articles on physics, technology, national security, and management.

“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,” Carter’s family said in a statement Tuesday. He was a beloved husband, father, mentor, and friend,” the statement said. “His sudden loss will be felt by all who knew him.”

Carter’s Family’s Quote

“He devoted his professional life to the national security of the United States and teaching students about international affairs,” his family said in a statement. “His sudden loss will be felt by all who knew him.”

Carter was married to Stephanie (DeLeeuw) Carter.He had been previously married to the current and eighth president of Bates College, Clayton Spencer, with whom he had two children, Ava and Will.

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