- By Paul McLearyPaul McLeary is Foreign Policy’s senior reporter covering the U.S. Defense Department and national security issues. He joined the Washington office in 2015 after working for Defense News, where he was also on the Pentagon beat, and covered stories relating to Pentagon spending and the defense industry. While there, and in a previous incarnation as a New York-based reporter, Paul embedded with U.S. Army and Marine Corps units in Iraq and Afghanistan to cover ground combat operations, where he got inside a secretive drone program being run out of Bagram air base. He has also traveled with the U.S. Navy, covered NATO meetings in Europe with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and stalked major international arms shows in Paris and London.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter hasn’t exactly gone out of his way to make the Pentagon briefing room his home, having appeared there only a handful of times since taking the job in mid-February, each visit just a quick dash to issue a short statement or a have a session with reporters.
But he used his scheduled 30 minutes in the room wisely Monday morning. During an awkward pause at the start of a joint press conference with French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, while the minister’s broken translation headset was being replaced, Ash let us in on a bit of his own personal history.
After grinning patiently through the silence, he told the assembled reporters in the room and everyone watching online that “I had a French girlfriend once,” which “highly motivated me” to learn French. While the room erupted in laughter and Ash managed to lighten the mood a bit, the press conference soon got back to some of the other issues of the day, like the fight against the Islamic State. For the record, the Secretary of Defense is happily married to his wife, Stephanie, who is not French.
Photo credit: Win McNamee/Getty Images
Correction, July 6, 2015: The name of the French defense minister is Jean-Yves Le Drian. A previous version of this article mistakenly spelled his name “Jean-Yves Le Drain.”