Remarks at the Dedication of the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs Memorial Wall

John Kerry
Secretary of State
21st Street Entrance
Washington, DC
June 12, 2014

Bill, thank you very much. Good morning, everybody, distinguished guests all, and particularly the members of the Bynum family and extended clan. We’re delighted to be able to honor you here today. As Bill just mentioned to you, on the other side of this building – and I hope you have a chance to see it if you haven’t seen it already when you came in – we have the AFSA, the American Foreign Service plaque, which proudly honors our fallen Foreign Service officers. But from this day forward, at this very spot, as Bill has described, in a place that is a thoroughfare for the moment of all of the people who work here in this family, with just as much solemnity and with just as much reverence we honor the men and women – contractors and federal employees alike – who gave the full measure of their capacity of their service to country, of their commitment to the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement mission abroad.

This is much more than a list of names. It’s a legacy of stories, individual stories, each one with a human face that tells the story of a brave person who served their country. In the name of making the rule of law stronger, of making the world a little bit more free from the drugs and the crime and the web of horrors that come with it that threatens the civilized world everywhere. Believe me, this is personal for everybody here. It’s particularly personal for Assistant Secretary Bill Brownfield, who could tell you by memory exactly where on the wall you would find the name and the date of his friend Kris Kriskovich, who Bill knew when they both served in El Salvador and who we lost in Bosnia struggling in the service of the effort to re-establish a police force and take back order from the streets of random and wanton violence. Nothing motivates this fellow, Bill Brownfield, more than the memory of Kris’s sacrifice.

Kris is one of 87 heroes on this wall. And now today his name is linked forever, as are the others, with that of Kevin Bynum, the newest name on the INL wall – a man that we’re here to remember together with his family. We’re delighted to welcome Kevin’s mother, Rebecca, his brother, Lawrence, and fiancee Chaille are all here, as are their children, Josiah Cross, Lazarus Cade, and Luke; his nieces, Sandy and Pam, his nephew-in-law, Doug, and his cousins, Mickie and Howard – they’re all in the audience, and we thank you so much for being here. I know it was a very difficult, long travel with weather delays, and you got in literally early in the morning. And we appreciate the special effort to be here.

Michael Botticelli from the White House is here too along with Michele Leonhart from DEA and Charles Samuels from the Federal Bureau of Prisons. And I also want to acknowledge all of our international partners who were here today to honor the fallen. We thank you.

For a year now, the INL memorial wall has been without a home. Today we give it a permanent display in, as I said, one of the busiest lobbies in this building so that each and every day the thousands of people who pass through here and visitors who come will be reminded of the sacrifices that people do make for the mission that we engage in here in the State Department.

Now I remember a time when some people questioned whether INL’s mission was the work of diplomats, whether law enforcement, crimes, and drugs overseas matter to our interests here at home. But as I travel the world today, I’m amazed by the degree to which corruption and crime are stealing opportunity from entire nations and standing in the way of the march of values that we care about and believe in so deeply. And that should concern every single person because wherever and whenever the rule of law is broken, whenever crime and corruption take root, that is a failure that literally endangers all of us. It is a threat to America and to Americans and to our allies and our friends and partners.

Narcotics grown halfway around the world are too often sold on our streets to our kids. People who are forced to pay bribes are likely to turn to extremism and illegal trafficking of elephant tusks and rhino horns. All of these things threaten the most vulnerable species and threaten communities, because it is criminal activity. It is outside of the rule of law.

What happens overseas matters here at home, and INL is leading our effort to fight back in order to bring order out of chaos. These issues are transnational. There’s no way to fight them by putting your head in the sand and just staying here at home. There’s no way to protect America by pretending that things that happen elsewhere don’t affect us here. None of these threats stop at any border, and they certainly can’t be stopped by one single government.

So if we are to turn the tides in the battle against organized crime and against drug traffickers, then we need to build cooperation and be innovative in our approaches. We in the United States believe that the rule of law has to be renewed every single day and it has to be renewed by people who work here in this Department and elsewhere in our government, sometimes in courageous and lonely efforts.

On this wall are the names of people who gave their lives in service to that principle, that they’re getting up every single day and committing to something much bigger than themselves. Today, with heavy hearts we add the name of Kevin Todd Bynum.

Now let me tell you a little bit about Kevin. For years Kevin worked for a crop dusting company in his native Mississippi, maintaining and loading the prop planes that sprayed the fields of soy beans and wheat. But Kevin didn’t want to just support the pilots. He wanted to be one. So Kevin got his pilot license and he became the man behind the controls. Then Kevin decided to use his license to fly for a bigger mission. He signed up to fly for his country in one of the most dangerous assignments that a pilot can imagine – flying anti-drug missions over the jungles of Colombia, becoming one of the brave pilots who have destroyed 1.5 million acres of coca trees and 7.9 million kilos of cocaine.

While Kevin took this mission very seriously, I can tell you and I think his family knows this, he always found the opportunities to have some fun. Whenever Kevin was working and his company called to check on him, Kevin would answer the phone the same way, with an order for cheeseburger and fries. Kevin’s fellow pilots called him “Boomer,” and they will tell you when you were working with Kevin, you had to check your shoes for rocks or for knotted laces every single morning.

Kevin was also one of our bravest pilots. Each time he went to Colombia, he asked to fly over some of the most dangerous regions. He dodged bullets fired from the rainforest below, and he was also the maintenance test pilot. When no one knew whether a repaired plane would be able to get off the ground and fly or break up over the jungle, Kevin took that first intrepid flight. He was always making sure that everyone came home safely.

Kevin’s name will now forever be honored at the entrance of this building named after President Harry Truman, a president who told us that “America was not built on fear. America was built on courage and on imagination and an unbeatable determination to do the job at hand.” President Truman could have just as easily been talking about Kevin and the other 86 patriots who are on this wall with the courage to fight against chaos and negativity, nihilism; the guts to imagine a more just world and the special resolve individually to try to get something done. That’s what makes us the indispensable nation. We look outward. We respond to the call of duty, even at the risk to ourselves, and we embrace the responsibility to lead.

In that spirit, we remember Kevin Bynum and everyone on this wall, whether they were contractors, federal employees, foreign nationals. We honor each of them for their dedication to the American mission abroad and for their willingness to put country and duty above themselves.

It’s now my honor to present the flag to Kevin’s mother and to lay a wreath at the wall.