Remarks at Veterans Innovation Partnership Announcement

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Benjamin Franklin Room
Washington, DC
October 31, 2013

Date: 10/31/2013 Description: Secretary Kerry delivers remarks at a Veterans Partnership Announcement at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, DC, on October 31, 2013. - State Dept Image

Thank you very, very much. I come to you today fresh from Fenway Park and flush with victory. (Applause.) It was a great night. Anybody watch? How many of you watched? Nobody? Come on. All right, a few of you. Well, anyway, it was a lot of fun for those of us who were there. It was part of my life balance program yesterday. (Laughter.) I committed to go up there, taking part.

But it’s a great, great pleasure to be here this afternoon with all of you, and really an honor for me to be introduced by Tulsi, by Congresswoman Gabbard. I’ve watched her in her early stages here, first-termer in Congress, and I’ve been impressed every single time. She speaks from her heart, speaks from her gut. She’s knowledgeable. And as I told her a few minutes ago, she’s going to be one of our stars in this political enterprise as we try to make America believe in the possibilities of getting things done again. So I’m really happy to be here with her, one of the first female combat veterans in the Congress, alongside Tammy Duckworth.

And both of them exemplify what brings us here today, which is the unique capacity that people who have worn the uniform in whatever – don’t have to be in combat, but you wear the uniform, you learn how to be part of a team, you learn leadership skills, you sacrifice wherever you go. And so it’s special, and we’re happy today to be able to do something that really capitalizes on that extraordinary experience.

I’m honored to be here with our Administrator of AID, Raj Shah, whom you’ll hear from in a little bit, who is going to help make this kind of effort executable and make it happen, and I’m delighted for his partnership on this and on many other things.

And I want to thank my good friend Drew O’Brien, my Special Representative for Global Partnerships, who has already been doing just a huge job of reaching out and creating new possibilities as we use the assets of this extraordinary Department in order to try to be creative and reach more people in different ways.

So I apologize up front to everybody, but I have to leave earlier than I had anticipated because I need to go up to the Hill to talk to both the leadership as well as the Banking Committee regarding what’s going on in terms of P5+1 talks with Iran. So I ask your indulgence in sort of liberating me, if you will, a little bit early.

But I will tell you all that for Drew, working on this program, and for me in many ways but not quite the same ways as Drew, this is very, very personal because Drew’s father, who I got to know a little bit – I helped him get some medals that he had never received from his service in war, and presented them to them – to him, and in fact not too long before he passed away. And I will tell you that Ed O’Brien, who served proudly in the Navy during World War II, including the invasion of Okinawa, embodied what we know as the Greatest Generation, those who served and defended America and saved democracy for the world. And then they came home to contribute to the community, quietly, in so many different ways, building our nation and ultimately laying the foundation for winning the Cold War, and ending it. So Drew really does understand what this is all about.

Now, I especially want to welcome all of you, all the veterans who are here in the room today, those of you who answered the call to service and took yourselves away from whatever your other course of life was for a period of time in order to wear the uniform and answer that highest calling, which is to serve your nation. I am deeply appreciative, whether you did so on the battlefield or in some other way. Everybody knows who served. It’s a team. And you can’t do one thing without the other thing happening, and it’s all connected. So we thank you all for what you did for your country in uniform, and what you’re now doing for your country that you’ve traded one uniform for another.

This is also, as Drew said, important to me. I’ve spent, literally since the day I returned from Vietnam, being involved in veterans affairs – a founder of the Vietnam Veterans of America, and involved in everything from getting Agent Orange designation for cancer and creating the charter, to working on benefits, including the change from $12,000 of insurance up to the now-$500,000. These are all parts of a continuum of effort that I’m proud of, but it never stops. And I think all of you know that. The Veterans Innovation Partnership – VIP, as we are calling it – is not about just what the State Department can do for veterans. It’s really based on the notion that veterans can do a lot for the State Department, and that we would be foolish not to try to reach out and harness the talent that exists.

I’ve always said also that being a veteran doesn’t automatically qualify you to be on the right side of any given foreign policy issue. Doesn’t work that way. No one is, myself included, but – although I’d better bat pretty high in this position. (Laughter.) But it’s a perspective and it’s obviously an important perspective.

The experience of being a veteran, I’ve always believed, does qualify you to speak with a voice that is a little bit different, and also helps you to validate ways in which we can project America’s force and values abroad. I personally never will forget – I’m sure none of you have forgotten the moment you returned home from a deployment. I certainly haven’t forgotten when I returned home from Vietnam and landed at McChord Air Force Base in Tacoma, Washington, feeling a little older than the 26 years that I was, and feeling blessed for the skills of management, leadership, organization, strategy that the United States Navy had bestowed on me even as a young lieutenant JG.

It also left me with a couple of other lessons. First, the firsthand understanding of what it means to be the tip of the spear, to be the tip of the spear on Americas’ foreign policy, and a more personal understanding of what it meant when Tony Benn wrote that all war represents the failure of diplomacy.

Few lessons ever bring home to you that more profoundly than why the efforts of this State Department must be nothing less than first rate, so that if and when we have to send young Americans into harm’s way, it is because we have no other choice. And second, the military and our experience in combat gave us all a special motivation to live life in the fullest because of those who weren’t so lucky, and that lesson is that if you come back from war, you know that every day is extra.

That’s why I asked Drew to build this new partnership to bring the unique skills that veterans have and that they’ve developed on the front lines of service to bring it to the front lines of diplomacy and of development. We need more people like Corneal Hunter, who served with the Army in Operation Desert Storm and in Kosovo, and who now brings his understanding of budgeting and management as a budget analyst in the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Service. People like Phil Schlatter, the Executive Director of our Bureau of the Comptroller and Global Financial Services, whose 10-year career at the State Department was preceded by 22 years of military service that gave him experience at command levels and at staff. People like Joan Annjohlie St. Marie, whose extensive Air Force experience in disaster preparedness, shelter operations, and emergency management has prepared her well for her current role in our Bureau of African Affairs.

Through the VIP, we hope to bring together U.S. Government agencies and private sector leaders in order to seek out those who have served America and who are interested in international issues and provide them with fellowship opportunities at State, USAID, OPIC, and MCC – Millennium Challenge, and help them find international employment opportunities in both the private and the public sectors. I am absolutely convinced of the enormous talent and capacity that veterans can bring to this Department to augment what we try to do on a global basis and do so with a unique credibility, a unique ability to be able to validate both the values and the interests that we are trying to represent. I’m very grateful for the outstanding partners who’ve already signed up to work with VIP, including the University of Massachusetts in Boston, and iRobot, which is a company I worked with previously when I was in the Senate, and they are represented here today. And I welcome others from the private sector, foundations, and civil society who want to contribute to this initiative.

The bottom line is pretty simple. I believe that those who have worn the uniform and gone through the training and the experience of leadership and of partnership in so many different ways, in so many different categories within our armed services – all of them have shown that they know how to serve in one capacity, and through that capacity have now developed a new capacity to be able to serve yet again on another front. We want the State Department, AID, and all these other entities to welcome them – more than that, we want to find them. We want to seek them out and we want to put them back into service for their country, knowing that will make our country stronger and it will make our departments that much more effective.

So, thank you for being here to be part of this. God bless you all, and I look forward to seeing you in the days ahead as we implement VIP. Thank you. (Applause.)

PRN: 2013/1331