In greeting new Secretary of State John Kerry, members of the Foreign Service were welcoming one of their own.
They hope his arrival at Foggy Bottom will mark new understanding of — and support for — the work they do around the world.
"As the son of a diplomat and as a member of the U.S. Senate deeply involved with American diplomacy over many decades, you bring to this office a unique perspective and understanding of politics and diplomacy and the importance of a professional career Foreign Service as the backbone of U.S. diplomacy and of the Department of State," Susan R. Johnson, president of the American Foreign Service Association, told Kerry last week during a welcoming ceremony.
"We trust that under your stewardship, all parts of the State Department team, including the Foreign Service, will gain in stature and recognition and enhance our professional capabilities to be fully prepared to meet the difficult challenges of this new century."
The Senate might be in his blood, Kerry responded, "but it is also true that the Foreign Service is in my genes."
Kerry's father was a Foreign Service officer who served in postwar Germany, in France and other countries. A sister worked for years at the United Nations; his wife, a native of Mozambique who speaks five languages, worked with the U.N. Trusteeship Council.
Kerry spent 28 years on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and chaired the panel for the last four. As Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank wrote: "At 69, he is in the job he had trained for his whole life. ... Not since John Quincy Adams, perhaps, has a man been bred to be secretary of state as John Kerry has."
The Massachusetts Democrat, who at times appeared awkward in the halls of the Capitol and during his unsuccessful run for president in 2004, seemed at home during the welcoming ceremony.
"This is beyond a pleasure," he told the assembled diplomats and department employees. Then he talked of his background, which included schooling abroad, and what he had learned from it: "how difficult life can be for people in the Foreign Service who have to uproot kids and uproot families and move from school to school and struggle with those difficulties."
"It's particularly not easy in this much more complicated and dangerous world. So I understand that. I also understand how critical it is that you have somebody there advocating for you."
He named the four Americans killed in the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
"The dangers could not be more clear," he said. "We're reminded by the stars and names on the wall, and we are particularly reminded by Chris Stevens and Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods and Sean Smith."
Then he made a pledge: "I will not let their patriotism and their bravery be obscured by politics, No. 1. No. 2, I guarantee you ... everything I do will be focused on the security and safety of our people."
The remarks drew applause.
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