Remarks at the Unaccompanied Tour Holiday Family Reception

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Washington, DC
December 16, 2015

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, good afternoon to everybody. Thank you, Pete. Hi, everybody.




SECRETARY KERRY: You guys look spectacular, you really do. What is that, “super cute”? That jersey says “super cute?” I think that jersey got it right. (Laughter.) There’s another one back there that says “Daddy’s draft pick.” I love these jerseys.

Anyway, it’s really, really nice to welcome you all here. Thank you so much for coming. I want to thank Pete Selfridge. This is Ambassador Selfridge, who you just heard from. He’s the chief of protocol. Whenever you see the pope come or you see President Xi from China or any other president or prime minister, he has to be responsible for all the greetings and the routines and the proper protocol so people don’t go away angry. And he does a spectacular job. And he’s helped pull this together today.

And I also want to thank Pat Kennedy, our under secretary for management, and I think Stu Jones, our ambassador from Iraq is here. Maybe – so there he is. He’s our ambassador to Iraq. Stu Jones is here. And all of them have played a role in helping to do this.

Why do we do this? We just really want to say thank you. We want to reach out and give everybody here a big hug, and everybody hug each other and say thank you very much, because everybody is experiencing the same thing, which is the challenge of modern diplomacy. Your dads and your moms or some of your relations are serving their country.

And ever since 9/11, diplomacy has changed. We are out on the front lines in many, many different countries where service can be very difficult, where we’ve chosen for matters of safety and security and mostly just precautionary to make sure we’re not compounding any challenges by having too many people there that we can’t sort of keep track and make sure we can guarantee the safety of.

But I can tell you, because I travel to all of these places, your loved ones are really doing spectacularly, and they are doing unbelievably for our country. They’re remarkable. Your moms, your dads, your loved ones – even if it’s an aunt or uncle or anybody who’s a friend of yours who is serving abroad right now – are doing an amazing job for our country. And can I tell you something special? So are you, because everybody serves. Even those of you here who are not deployed are still serving your country, and I hope you feel that.

We have a program in the State Department where we help to recognize that by giving a medal that goes out to all of the young people around the world who represent families who are not able to share physically, personally with their loved one here at the time of a holiday, and especially now. So I think through the Medals and Certificates Program, we’ve got about – we launched it in 2006, and about 6,500 medals have been awarded to children who are in the middle of an unaccompanied tour, doing their part here at home. And these demonstrate our appreciation to you for your service to our country.

Now, I know Skype is pretty good – Facetime, Skype, these things – and obviously it’s better to be able to have a personal conversation and look at the person you’re talking to and make it realtime, and that makes a world of difference. It doesn’t quite, obviously, make up for a personal hug, but I’ve got to tell you it’s nice to be able to have that kind of conversation on a daily basis.

Here’s the bottom line, because I don’t want to talk too long. I want to hear Matilda, as you do, and they’re waiting out there. And I met the three – the cutest little girls I met, all of whom talk simultaneously. I said, “How are you?” and they said, “We’re fine, Mr. Secretary. How are you?” And it all came out as one big sentence. I don’t know. (Laughter.) But I don’t think they do that every day.

So the bottom line is that this afternoon is a chance for me as Secretary of State, who gets to meet your loved ones personally, whether it’s in Kabul or Islamabad or any other number of places – Baghdad, in consulates in difficult places – I was in Russia yesterday; just came back from meetings there where we’re trying to deal with Syria and deal with Libya and change these situations as fast as we can.

I express my personal, deepest affection for and gratitude to every single one of you for serving your country the way you do. It’s a remarkable gift, and we treasure it. And I hope you feel, with all the services that we have here to try to help people through difficult times here at the department, this is a big family. We treat it that way; we believe it. Those aren’t just words. So if you need something, if you’re feeling pressures, if there’s some difficulty within the family, if you need something for any reason whatsoever, we are here. Pat Kennedy, our teams are all here to try to be helpful.

So on that note, we want you to have a fantastic, joyous holiday. Global warming is not helping to make it a white Christmas. (Laughter.) I know you’re kind of angry about that. But we’re trying to do our part to deal with that too. So hopefully ponds can freeze over, you can test those ice skates if you’ve got them, or at least slide down one of these hills on a sled one of these days soon.

So I wish you a very, very merry Christmas for those who celebrate it; very happy Hanukkah for those who celebrate Hanukkah; very happy holidays for those of you who choose to celebrate in whatever fashion whatsoever. Most important, this is a time for family. It’s a time to love each other, hug each other, and probably get the right Lego set or something for Christmas, or you’re in trouble. Thank you all, and God bless. Thank you. (Applause.)

My pleasure now to introduce to you the cast of Matilda, who are going to entertain us. Thank you.