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Diplomacy in Action

Secretary of State John Kerry Hosts the Unaccompanied Tour Families Holiday Reception


Remarks
John Kerry
   Secretary of State
William J. Burns
   Deputy Secretary of State
Ben Franklin Room
Washington, DC
January 7, 2014

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DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: Good afternoon, everybody and welcome home to the Department of State. Thank you all very much for coming, and Happy New Year.

We gather today to honor those who are serving with distinction in some of the world’s most complicated places, from South Sudan to Iraq, from Yemen to Afghanistan. We gather today to express our gratitude to their loved ones – to all of you, for your service, your sacrifice, and your resiliency during months of separation, anxiety, missed birthdays, and dropped Skype calls. And we gather today to remember and celebrate the fact that during these challenging times, we have one another.

All of you know, as well as I do, that through the ups and downs of life in the Foreign Service few things remain constant. Policies changes, jobs change, schools change, ambassadors come and go. But you can always count on your State Department family being there for you. And I know that as the demands on our diplomats grow, so too do the bonds that tie us together. My family has relied on the incredible support of this remarkable institution and its remarkable people for more than three decades. There is truly no greater honor than to serve alongside all of you.

Secretary Kerry has been part of the State Department family his whole life. He knows how much we ask of our diplomats and their families, and he knows just how indispensable your efforts are to promote American interests and values and advance the cause of peace and prosperity here at home and around the world. We’re very fortunate to have him as the champion for the people of this Department and its mission, and I’m very fortunate to have the honor to introduce him this afternoon.

Mr. Secretary. (Applause.)

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you. Thank you. Well, good afternoon and Happy New Year to everybody. And as you all know, we did not originally plan to say Happy New Year, we originally planned to say happy holidays and Merry Christmas, but because of the schedule as well as storms and different things that invaded us, here we are on what I think may well be the 13th day of Christmas. (Laughter.) I’ve heard of 12 Days of Christmas. We can rewrite the song and go from there.

Thank you to our Deputy Secretary Bill Burns for his generous introduction and for his comments about all of you and about the families around the world and your loved ones around the world. I want you to know President Obama once said that Bill Burns is that rare commodity in Washington. He’s someone who doesn’t speak loudly, but actually has something to say. (Laughter.) And I couldn’t agree more. I have really relied on his extraordinary judgment and his experience since the day I came here. And it’s really invaluable, and we’re blessed to have him in his continued service here.

Thanks a lot for joining us today. Kids, thank you. Thank you, all of you. I hope you had good holidays. Good so far? Is it cold enough for you out there? (Laughter.) This is what we call a polar vortex, and for any of you who are confused or frightened by it, this is springtime in Boston. (Laughter.) Just roll with the punches.

I really hope you’re enjoying a few moments up here to celebrate. And probably this is in keeping with the new Washington. Nothing around here happens on time anymore. But I – next year, we’re going to guarantee this party – actually this year, we’re going to guarantee this party happens this year. (Laughter.) And we’ll schedule it far enough in advance to make sure that happens.

It’s really special for me to be able to welcome all of you here at the State Department here today, to the Ben Franklin Room. I can’t tell you how proud we are of your service and the service of your loved ones. And I have to tell you, this is a family affair because it is family. Everybody is serving. And those of you who are here know as well as any people, because of the unaccompanied tours, just how much of a burden that service is and what it means. And I want you to know how incredibly grateful we are here at the Department, the President, the White House, people in the country for what you do for our nation.

Your contribution is as important as anybody’s. You remember the old saying from wartime: They also serve who stand and wait. So for each and every one of you this is really important. And I know for kids not to have whether it’s dad or mom or a spousal partner, whoever it is, not here, that’s a big deal.

I know also that every single one of you do incredible things to stay in touch with your loved ones, whether it’s Skype-ing or FaceTime-ing, which we never had. I remember standing in line for several hours Christmas of 1968 to get what we then called a MARS phone and we were – had this distant thing that sounded like you were on another planet. And you got about a minute and a half. And if after standing in line for two and a half hours, or whatever it was, you got up there and the person wasn’t there when you got there, that was it. You went to the back of the line or you didn’t get your call. So believe me, Skype-ing, FaceTime, you have a whole new world of opportunity.

And my chance to be able to say thank you to you is very personal, partly because I did spend Christmas of 1968 in uniform away from my family. I remember getting that package about two weeks after Christmas with stale brownies and hardened candy, and man, it tasted good no matter what. (Laughter.) But during the Foreign Service time we were never separated from my father, but I will tell you I can imagine and know from my own personal experience of being away from family at that special time how difficult it is.

So we’re really happy to welcome you here today. I’m absolutely stunned. It is true we have Coca-Cola floats here? Is that true? I’ve got to get one of those before I leave here. (Laughter.)

This is a demanding enough job – ask anybody who’s doing it even with their family, you can ask my family – but when you’re doing it without your family and without the whole nuclear unit, it’s even tougher. And so I just wanted to have a firsthand opportunity to be able to visit with all of you.

I thank all the members of the Diplomatic Corps who have joined us today to be able to celebrate a little bit with you, and I particularly want to thank a group of private partners who’ve joined us who’ve made this possible. This is sponsored by some private companies who care about you and care about what we’re doing. And I start by thanking our lead sponsor, the Chevron Corporation, and Mondelez International, the Coca-Cola Company, Hallmark Cards who are here and you’ll see.

Each of you are going to get a special packet when you leave. And I will tell you in advance-- I also want to thank Copiosity because Copiosity is a company that does decorative materials and wrapping. They help us with the sending of all of our care packages around the world to people, and they have helped put together this package you’re going to get. And please forgive me if you get a football that says New England Patriots on it – (laughter) – and if you get a that says Boston Red Sox, I want you to wear it with pride as an extended member of Red Sox Nation.

But most importantly, I just want to say a huge thank you to every single one of you. And I want to have a chance not to make a speech but to shake hands and take some pictures. And I particularly want to, as I say, thank you on behalf of President Obama and the country. I want to ask all the kids – by the way, I love the holiday sweaters still and the holiday dress, and it’s making me feel great because it ended too quickly. It reminds me when I was running for president out in Iowa. Everybody in Iowa wears a holiday Christmas sweater at parties, and it just sort of creates an atmosphere, and I see a lot of that here today.

So kids, if you will join me, will you all come up here on the podium and we can take a great picture with all of you? And meanwhile, happy holidays. I hope everybody has a spectacular 2014 and I look forward to seeing you later in the year. Thank you very much. Appreciate it. (Applause.)



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