Remarks delivered at the reception welcoming Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James to HKS

April 22, 2016

Good afternoon. I’m Doug Elmendorf, the dean of Harvard Kennedy School. I am very pleased to welcome you to this afternoon’s luncheon with the Secretary of the Air Force, Deborah Lee James. We are honored that Secretary James is joining us today and delighted that the Reserve Officer Training Corps for the Air Force is back at Harvard.

We are also honored and pleased that this gathering includes many ROTC students as well as a number of students, faculty, and alumni who are active-military members or veterans. I Speak for everyone else in the room when would like the rest of this gathering to join me in offering you our highest admiration and respect, and thanking you for your service to our country.

As you may know, the ROTC program was established 100 years ago, and Harvard’s first ROTC regiment was set up in the same year. Of course, there was no Air Force yet. The Air Force was created as a separate service right after the Second World War, and Harvard’s Air Force ROTC program was created then as well.

I want to interject a personal note here. The predecessor of the Air Force, as you know, was the Army Air Corps. I’m proud to say that my great-uncle Hugh Elmendorf was a pilot in the Army Air Corps. He died while testing one of the early closed-cockpit airplanes. In recognition of his service, the Air Corps named a small airstrip in a distant woods after him. That airstrip later evolved into Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage, Alaska--now part of Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. We received a gracious tour of the base several years ago when we visited Alaska. I'm very pleased by that connection.

Meanwhile, back at Harvard, the ROTC thrived for many years. But then, in the late 1960s, Harvard withdrew its support for the program, and Harvard students who wanted to participate went to MIT to do so. That arm’s-length relationship persisted until 2011 when the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy was reversed. At that point, President Faust welcomed the Reserve Officer Training Corps back to Harvard, and I know how pleased she was to do so. First, the Navy, then the Army, and at last, the Air Force ROTC are back.

President Faust has spoken more eloquently than I can about the importance of the relationship between Harvard and the nation’s military, but I do want to say how extremely proud we are at the Kennedy School of our ongoing engagement with the people who are protecting our country. Today, nearly 80 veterans and active-duty servicemen and women are receiving military benefits to attend the Kennedy School. We aim at the School to train exceptional leaders, who come to us with great talent and experiences and with a commitment to public service, and who leave us with more skills and training and with connections to other leaders that we hope will make them even more effective in their roles in the world.

There is no more important destination for our graduates than our nation’s military. We proudly point to alumni like Congressman Seth Moulton, a former Marine Corps officer and Iraq war veteran; Admiral Harry Harris, who heads U.S. Pacific Command; Major General Charles Hooper, who is currently the senior U.S. Defense official in Cairo; Maura Sullivan, also a former Marine Corps officer and Iraq veteran who is the assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, and others. We also proudly point to our former faculty colleague Ash Carter, who of course is the Secretary of Defense.

Each year, the Kennedy School hosts 20 National Security Fellows, of whom typically about three-quarters are senior active-duty military officers and about one-quarter are civilians from other U.S. national security organizations. And we teach military leaders in our executive education programs, including six of the current 4-star generals in the Air Force.

In 2009, the Center for Public Leadership and the Belfer Center here at the Kennedy School jointly hosted with Harvard Business School a tribute to the veterans who are students at Harvard. This event “Honoring Student Veterans” continues every two years. And on April 29, we will host the first-ever Veterans Impact Day, a day of service organized by student veterans and non-veterans that will involve site visits to veterans’ organizations in Boston and Cambridge.

Let me now turn the podium over to our featured guest. Deborah Lee James began her work for the nation;s armed forces by serving on the professional staff of the House Armed Services Committee for ten years. She then became Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs for five years, where she was the Secretary of Defense’s senior adviser on all matters pertaining to the 1.8 million National Guard and Reserve personnel worldwide. She worked in variety of senior roles at United Technologies and SAIC. Deborah Lee James is now the 23rd Secretary of the U.S. Air Force, and we are honored to have her as our guest today. Please join me in welcoming her!