While serving as defense secretary under Obama, Carter ordered the U.S. military to open all jobs to women and later ended the ban on transgender troops.
WASHINGTON — Ash Carter, who served as secretary of defense in the final two years of the Obama administration and opened military combat jobs to women and ended a ban on transgender people serving in the military, has died at age 68.
Carter died after suffering a heart attack on Monday evening, according a statement Tuesday from Douglas Elmendorf, dean of Harvard University’s Kennedy School. Carter had served as as director of the school’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.
In December 2015, after three years of study and debate, Carter ordered the military to open all jobs to women, removing the final barriers that kept women from serving in combat, including the most dangerous and grueling commando posts.
The following year, Carter, was responsible for ending the ban on transgender troops serving in the U.S. military, saying it was the right thing to do.
“Americans who want to serve and can meet our standards should be afforded the opportunity to compete to do so,” Carter said in June 2016, laying out a one-year plan to implement the change. “Our mission is to defend this country, and we don’t want barriers unrelated to a person’s qualification to serve preventing us from recruiting or retaining the soldier, sailor, airman, or Marine who can best accomplish the mission.”
Carter also often spoke with pride on his role in speeding the acquisition of armored vehicles for use in Iraq and Afghanistan during the height of both of those conflicts to better protect U.S. troops from roadside bombs.
Carter, a native of Philadelphia, served as the 25th defense secretary and “loved nothing more than spending time with the troops, making frequent trips to Iraq and Afghanistan to visit U.S. forces with his wife Stephanie,” his family said in a statement. “Carter always set politics aside; he served presidents of both parties over five administrations.”