AMBASSADOR STEPHENSON: Good afternoon and welcome. I’m Barbara Stephenson, president of the American Foreign Service Association, and I want to thank all of you for joining us today – the day the Senate designated as Foreign Service Day to pay tribute to colleagues who did not make it home from serving our country abroad.
This year’s event is especially meaningful for me personally, as this is my last memorial ceremony as AFSA president. In my very first column as AFSA president, I wrote of the extraordinary demands that are made of the extraordinary people who answer the call to serve. As part of our pledge to worldwide availability, we in the Foreign Service willingly agree to take on a career that requires us to serve in remote corners of the globe, often in unsafe and unhealthy conditions of genuine hardship, where good schools for our kids and good jobs for our spouses are scarce.
Nowhere do I feel the weight and gravity of that commitment to deploy worldwide more profoundly than right here in front of these memorial plaques. Standing here, joining you in remembering our fallen colleagues, has been one of the great honors of this role. I hope all of you gathered here and watching this ceremony take a moment to reflect on the lives and service represented by the 250 names that have been inscribed on these walls over the last 80 years.
I am relieved to say that we are not adding a new name to the wall this year. For this we give thanks, while knowing from experience not to expect this to become the norm.
AFSA has had the honor of presiding over this ceremony for almost eight decades. We intend to continue to do so in the years to come as we carry on our mission to deploy abroad, to protect and serve America’s people, interests, and values. Inevitably, our service carries risks, but we accept those risks because we are in no doubt about the importance of our mission to our security and prosperity here at home.
By gathering here today, we affirm that members of the Foreign Service who die while serving America abroad will be remembered and honored by their colleagues and their country.
I am pleased by the presence of so many distinguished colleagues and guests. I’d like to welcome Director General of the Foreign Service Ambassador Carol Perez; USAID Counselor Chris Milligan; Director of the Foreign Service Ambassador Dan Smith; Acting Assistant Secretary for NEA David Satterfield; Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for SCA Alice Wells, who I think maybe didn’t make it at the last minute here – Marsha? – Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for EAP Patrick Murphy; Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for PRM Carol Thompson O’Connell; and Senior Bureau Official for DRL Mike Kozak; and many distinguished retired Foreign Service colleagues, including Ambassador Ruth Davis – Ambassadors Ruth Davis, Lino Gutierrez, Ron Neumann, Tony Wayne, Marcie Ries, Pete Romero, and Tom Boyatt.
Of course, on any given day, about two-thirds of the Foreign Service is, as the name suggests, serving abroad. We are joined today in our customary Moment of Silence by colleagues at embassies and consulates around the world. AFSA asked posts around the world to arrange their own Moment of Silence in honor of this occasion, and over the last 24 hours our colleagues have gathered in Kabul and Baghdad, Reykjavik and Port Moresby, Baku and Santiago, and many, many other posts, to pay their respects and remember our colleagues. In so doing, they vividly demonstrate that the Foreign Service is on duty at all times, in every corner of the world, just as we should be. I look forward personally to marking this occasion next year on the ground with the team in Baghdad.
Before we offer our own Moment of Silence, I would like to ask everyone to stand as the United States Armed Forces Color Guard presents the colors.
(The Colors were presented.)
AMBASSADOR STEPHENSON: I ask that you remain standing for a Moment of Silence in honor of our fallen colleagues, and then for the National Anthem. Fellow Foreign Service officer Dr. Felicia Renee Wilson-Young from AID will bring us out of the Moment of Silence by singing the Star-Spangled Banner. I’d like to ask that we all join Dr. Wilson Young in singing the final passage printed on the back of your programs beginning, “O say does that Star-Spangled Banner yet wave.”
Now please join me and our colleagues at American embassies and consulates around the world in observing a Moment of Silence.
(A Moment of Silence was observed.)
(The National Anthem was sung.)
AMBASSADOR STEPHENSON: Thank you, Felicia. Thanks in part to our service, our presence at embassies and consulates around the world, the answer to that question, “O say does that Star-Spangled Banner yet wave,” is yes, and long may it be so.
Please remain standing as the United States Armed Forces Color Guard retires the colors.
(The Colors were retired.)
AMBASSADOR STEPHENSON: Please be seated. I would now like to invite our Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to the podium to give remarks.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you and good afternoon. Thank you, Ambassador Stephenson, and thank you for hosting this important service that I am grateful to be a part of. And it’s wonderful to see so many leaders here from throughout the department and other parts of the federal government as well.
I want to welcome the former recipients of AFSA’s award for Lifetime Contributions to American Diplomacy that are right here in the front row. Congratulations to you all. Thank you for coming home.
I appreciate everyone for joining us today as we pay tribute to our colleagues, our friends, our family members, who have died in service to the United States of America.
I’ve now been Secretary of State for one year and about six days, and I remember quite well that this ceremony was one of my very first speaking engagements here. It was a sobering reminder for me at the beginning of my tenure of the risks our team takes on behalf of the American people 24/7 every single day.
In the year since then, I’ve gotten a chance to look at these walls pretty often as I move around the Department for various meetings.
In the recent weeks there was a solitary bouquet of flowers placed right at the base of the west plaque. The accompanying note said it was for Anne Smedinghoff, who was killed in Afghanistan in 2013.
I frankly don’t know who put it there, but I do know someone is remembering a loved one, a loved one who was part of our team. And so whoever you are, please know that you have the sympathies of our entire team and of the Secretary of State.
And that goes for all of you, each of us who has ever grieved for the 250 names on this wall. Their names are etched in stone, and they will always be in our hearts as well.
At the same time, our sorrow for these heroes is mixed with admiration for the sacrifices that they have made for our nation. They were lives lived – and lost – for the good of others and public service. I’m reminded of a verse from the book of John, which reads: “The greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” That’s what those on the wall have done, and for that we will be eternally grateful.
Last year, we added two names to the wall. This year, we thank God that no names have been added. We hope and pray and we work hard every day to be sure that it is the same next year, and every year thereafter.
And we complement our prayers with action. We work every day to protect our team in the field. It’s among my highest priorities and the highest priorities of the entire senior leadership team.
I know this: In challenges all across the world, I ask every day our team to assume great risks on behalf of the United States, and so they and their families deserve the best security that we can possibly muster. I know our mission will be held back if our colleagues and their families are constantly worrying about their safety, and so there’s a good reason to make sure that we are exquisite in this regard.
My commitment a year ago is the same one I’ll make to you all today. I’m going to do everything I can to keep every single one of our team members safe. I’ve said this before: If the conditions aren’t good enough for me or for the Pompeo family, if I wouldn’t expect my own family to live in these places, I won’t expect any of you all to do it either.
As I close here today, I’m humbled to join you in honoring those who answered the high calling of American diplomacy with the fullest measure. Their lives were not lost in vain. We’ll continue to safeguard and advance the precious freedoms for which they died, and we do so so that their memory will live on.
I would now like the wreath bearer to proceed forward.
(The Wreath was laid.)
AMBASSADOR STEPHENSON: Thank you, Mr. Secretary, for showing your support for us, for the Foreign Service, by being here today. And thank you all for being here today and for honoring our colleagues in the Foreign Service community. This concludes our event. Thank you for coming.