WASHINGTON — — Let's take a break from the raging discord that has dominated Washington lately by remembering federal employees who died abroad in service to their country. With so much attention focused on what the government has done wrong, we'll end the week with words about government workers who died trying to do right.
Actually, four of them are central to one of the controversies — last year's attack on the American post in Benghazi, Libya. But this piece will focus on the individuals who lost their lives and not on the political messaging that still haunts their deaths.
Earlier this month, in what now seems like a quieter era, Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry participated in the American Foreign Service Association plaque ceremony at the State Department. Each year, recently added names to the plaque are unveiled. There are now 244 names, dating to 1780.
"This occasion is a special opportunity to honor the service and sacrifice of our fallen Foreign Service colleagues and to recognize their significant contributions to American diplomacy and national security," AFSA president Susan Johnson said at the May 3 program.
Kerry, rather than just listing names, said a little bit about each of the dead. Here is some of his tribute:
"Anne Smedinghoff was just 25 years old when she was killed in Zabul province, Afghanistan. I met her on my trip to Afghanistan, about a week before her death. And I remember her face — her permanent smile … she was killed carrying out a mission of hope, bringing books to Afghan children."
Smedinghoff, a Johns Hopkins University graduate killed last month, was a marathon runner and a biker, according to a biography supplied by the AFSA. In 2009, she rode from Baltimore to San Francisco to support the Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults.
"Ambassador Chris Stevens … was killed in the terrorist attack at our diplomatic post in Benghazi, on September 11, 2012. … Everyone felt like he was a personal friend. And in fact, for those of us on the Foreign Relations Committee, he was, because he worked there at one time."
Eight U.S. ambassadors have died in the line of duty. Before Stevens, who lived in Chevy Chase, the last one was in 1988.
"Sean Smith was killed in the same attack as Ambassador Stevens. He was serving literally as a one-man band to keep the Benghazi post running. … Sean, throughout his career, went places that other people didn't. He was the first to volunteer for Haiti after the earthquake, the first to volunteer for Japan after the Fukushima disaster. And so, of course, he stepped up to serve in Benghazi. But with as much time and passion as he devoted to work, he also built a very rich network of friends."
Smith, a big San Diego Chargers fan, was known to throw a great Super Bowl party and enjoyed online gaming.
The ceremony also honored Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty, trained Navy SEALs who have been identified as CIA contractors.
"Ty Woods and Glen Doherty died defending the U.S. annex in Benghazi," Kerry said. "And thanks to their bravery and their sacrifice, 30 Americans escaped the attack. Thirty Americans are alive today because of Ty and Glen.
"Ty Woods was a guy who was always looking for a challenge, always waiting for the phone to ring and for the next big mission," Kerry said. "Even though he got a scholarship to wrestle for the University of Oregon, Ty joined the SEALs at 18 because he thought it was the biggest challenge that he could set for himself. He earned a Bronze Star and a Combat 'V,' but he also had a healer's touch, and he eventually became a registered nurse and a certified paramedic."
Shortly after Woods died, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said he had "the hands of a healer as well as the arm of a warrior."
Kerry said: "Glen Doherty protected our diplomatic posts around the globe from Iraq to Afghanistan, and finally, to Libya. According to his SEAL buddies, Glen was, without a doubt, the most-liked man you could ever hope to meet. Whether he was skiing or surfing, running or rafting, Glen always wanted to be doing something and always wanted to be connecting with other people."
His family and friends established the Glen Doherty Memorial Foundation in his honor.
Ragaei Abdelfattah, formerly a Prince George's County master planner, was working for the U.S. Agency for International Development when he was killed during an August suicide attack in Afghanistan.
"He was Egyptian by birth," Kerry said, "but his friends and family called him the biggest flag-waving American they ever knew. He loved bad chain restaurants, bad romantic comedies and dark chocolate."
The ceremony also belatedly honored two Foreign Service officers killed in Vietnam: Joseph Gregory Fandino in 1972 and Francis J. Savage in 1967.
Each of those honored "sought out the most difficult assignments," Kerry said. "They understood the risks, and still they raised their hands and they said: 'Send me.'"