The Cable

The Lives of Defense Secretaries

There isn't always a lot of levity in the Pentagon briefing room, but Defense Secretary Ash Carter provided some on Monday.

WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 06:  U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter testifies before the Senate Appropriations Committee on Capitol Hill May 6, 2015 in Washington, DC. The committee heard testimony on the fiscal year 2016 budget for the Department of Defense.  (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 06: U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter testifies before the Senate Appropriations Committee on Capitol Hill May 6, 2015 in Washington, DC. The committee heard testimony on the fiscal year 2016 budget for the Department of Defense. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

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.”

Paul McLeary is Foreign Policy’s senior reporter covering the U.S. Defense Department and national security issues. @paulmcleary

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