Transcripts & Remarks

Ambassador James B. Cunningham Remarks at Memorial Service for Anne Smedinghoff

April 8, 2013
Ambassador James B. Cunningham

Ambassador James B. Cunningham

U.S. Embassy Kabul

Anne’s loss has had a great impact on all of us. I spoke to her family last night, to tell them she was on her way home.  Leslie and I have a daughter close to Anne’s age, and I told Anne’s father, Tom, that we understand the terrible pain they are suffering.  They have been incredibly gracious in their grief, consoled by the fact that Anne died doing something she loved, something she believed had purpose. She was in the company of civilian, military and Afghan comrades who along with her also died or were injured in the attack. We pay tribute to all of them. We honor those who gave their lives.  For the injured, we will do everything we can to support them as they face the challenges of recovery. The sacrifice of them all makes concrete the greater purpose that binds us here, the purpose for which Anne so sadly perished and to which we re-dedicate ourselves today as we pay tribute to her.

We know so many fine things about Anne from the many joys she brought our Kabul community.  She was special. She earned friendship and praise from everyone. She had boundless energy, and her warm smile was infectious.  Her Foreign Service family, her Embassy Kabul family, feel keenly the loss of a sister taken much too early.  We see that in the Secretary’s personal engagement, and in the pain on the faces of all of us.  Kabul Press is missing the smart, funny, strong woman working at the desk in the corner, with the Kabul Marathon registration box next to her.  Public Affairs is missing an essential player who brought energy and dedication and affection to our lives.  Embassy Kabul is missing the young, brilliant, generous sister who brings us all together today. A former colleague of hers wrote today about her decision to come to Afghanistan, “she thought she could change the world.”  Well, she’d made a good start, and in doing so changed us.

Anne was enthusiastic about telling the story of good work and real progress in Afghanistan – critical and important work. That is what took Anne to Qalat. She was escorting a group of Afghan journalists to an event so that the people of Afghanistan could see that they are succeeding, that they can have confidence in their future, and that they have a committed friend in the United States.

Anne’s trip to Qalat was to present sets of books to the children of Afghanistan. Teachers are trained in using the books as a way to show the world to their students, especially girls. I know that she was looking forward to the day, excited at the prospect of seeing the children. That was why she came here – to make a difference in a difficult place.

Anne entered the Foreign Service out of college, and volunteered to come here in her second assignment. It was clear that she was one of the best.  Because of that, Anne was chosen to be a control officer for Secretary Kerry’s visit.  It is a testament to Anne that when Secretary Kerry called me on Saturday, he recalled her clearly. As we have seen since, the Secretary was deeply affected by the attack and by Anne’s passing.

The work we do is always difficult, sometimes dangerous, and occasionally deeply frustrating, but we do it because we believe it makes a difference.  Anne loved her work and put her heart and soul into it. Whether serving as the Secretary’s press control officer,  dealing with our international journalist friends, serving on the Gender Working Group, playing soccer alongside an American Olympian, running the Marathon or helping Afghan journalists learn the importance of a free press, her positive attitude and energy were ever present.

It is indeed tragic that Anne’s great, promising story ended too soon.  Our prayers go out to her parents Tom and Mary Beth, and her family.  I know they are very proud of her, as we are. We are inspired by Anne’s example to do what must be done – as she always did.  We are filled with sorrow.  But her smile jumped out at me in a photo I saw of her today, a beautiful smile of confidence, reflecting the many lives she touched, and the energy she brought to everything in her life. We pay tribute to her young life in our commitment to pursue her sense of purpose, and to hold her in our hearts. We will grieve, and we will heal.  Each of us will do that in a different way.  Please take the time and space and assistance you need.

I thank all of you for your service, and for upholding the ideals for which Anne paid such a high price. May God rest her soul, and bless us. 

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