Join Us Now

    * Required Field(s)

    The Secretaries of Defense Series

    The Secretaries of Defense Series

    About the Series

    With Honor Action, in partnership with the Special Competitive Studies Project (SCSP), was pleased to host a series of enlightening interviews with all the living, post 9/11, Secretaries of Defense. Both With Honor and SCSP consider elevating civil discourse a key imperative of public education. “Providing for the common defense,” as outlined in the Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution, is a nonpartisan endeavor and as such, the duties of Secretary of Defense demand an apolitical leader.

    The Office of the Secretary of Defense is responsible for policy development, planning, resource management, and program evaluation. The featured Secretaries served their country in both Republican and Democratic administrations and today act as living examples of the highest ideals of civil and public service. This series highlighted all living post-9/11 Secretaries of Defense. Unfortunately, the Honorable Ashton B. Carter passed just one week prior to his interview. The final event in the series was a tribute to his life and service, including remarks delivered by former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

    Lessons Learned

    All the secretaries reflected fondly on their time in service. Dr. Mark Esper called his time in uniformed service “the best times of my life.” Secretary Panetta talked of how his first boss in politics, California Republican Senator Tom Kuchel, imprinted on him the virtue of “service to country.” The 22nd Secretary of Defense, Bob Gates, who sits on With Honor’s Advisory Board, spoke to his decades in national service working for 5 Republican and 3 Democratic Administrations.

    As seasoned public servants, all the secretaries offered policy advice to the 118th Congress.

    Secretary Gates underscored the importance of stability and predictability in U.S. national security and praised congressional bodies like the Armed Services committees for their longstanding commitment to bipartisanship.

    Dr. Esper focused on innovation, rejecting claims that America can’t innovate, while cautioning that the Pentagon’s “risk averse culture” often prohibits the military from adapting swiftly to new threats.

    Secretary and former Senator Chuck Hagel reminded bipartisan lawmakers of the oath they took to their country, not to a party or a president. “You have to be strong enough to know that the title isn’t as big as you. You are bigger than any title. I’ve had a lot of titles in my life… but the title wasn’t me.”

    Secretary Jim Mattis reflected on the importance of principled post 9-11 veterans who are committing their lives to service, and the value of the For Country Caucus in Congress to pass legislation such as the Global War on Terrorism Memorial Act.

    Honoring Ash Carter

    Sadly, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter passed away during the filming of this series. The 56th Secretary of State and WWII Army veteran, Dr. Henry Kissinger, offered a moving tribute to Dr. Carter and his decades of service to his country. “I saw Ash for the last time two weeks before he died,” said Dr. Kissinger. He was “a great patriot, and greatly dedicated to the ideas of freedom.”

    Bob Work, a career Marine artillery officer who rose to the post of Deputy Secretary of Defense under Secretary Carter, also spoke fondly of his former boss. “You’re not going to find too many [Secretaries] who served in every level of the department. And in the particular jobs that he held, he was a brilliant lifelong scholar and teacher.”

    Secretary Carter, who earned a PhD in Theoretical Physics, was passionate about science and ensuring that our Armed Forces retains its technologic advantage over America’s adversaries. Many of the interviewed Secretaries spoke to that unique theme, noting with frustration the Department’s inability to rapidly adapt to new innovations and technological progress.


    With Honor is a cross-partisan organization. Our mission is to strengthen democracy by fighting polarization in the United States Congress with principled veteran leaders. The Special Competitive Studies Project (SCSP) is a non-partisan, non-profit initiative with a clear mission: to make recommendations to strengthen America’s long-term competitiveness as artificial intelligence (AI) and other emerging technologies reshape our national security, economy, and society.

    • Afghanistan
    • With Honor Action
    Previous article

    35 Laws Passed in 2022

    Learn more
    Next article

    MEMO: Assistance for our Afghan Allies

    Learn more