Former Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter died Monday evening in Boston of a sudden cardiac event. He was 68.

“It is with deep and profound sadness that the family of former Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter shares that Secretary Carter passed away Monday evening in Boston after a sudden cardiac event at the age of 68,” Carter’s family said in a statement Tuesday.

Carter served as secretary of Defense under President Barack Obama from February 2015 to January 2017. He was also a public policy professor who directed the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard Kennedy School up until his death.

Carter “devoted his professional life to the national security of the United States and teaching students about international affairs,” his family said in the statement. “He was a beloved husband, father, mentor, and friend. His sudden loss will be felt by all who knew him.”

As the nation's 25th Defense secretary, Carter notably opened all military combat positions to women and ended the ban on transgender troops serving in the military — a policy that remained in place for about a year before former President Donald Trump reinstated the ban.

The former Defense secretary had publicly expressed his more hawkish views on war, taking on a more aggressive stance than others in the Obama administration during its campaign to defeat Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. He called for a “lasting defeat” of the Islamic State, launching at the outset of his tenure a reorganization of the United States’ counter-Islamic State campaign that was ultimately successful in helping Iraqi forces seize and hold Islamic State strongholds.

Carter served presidents of both parties over five administrations — with his first political appointment to the Pentagon coming from former President Bill Clinton in the early 1990s, when he served as the assistant secretary of Defense for global strategic affairs. Carter held several other roles within the Pentagon, including deputy secretary of Defense and under secretary of Defense for acquisition, technology and logistics.

He also served as a member of the Secretary of State’s International Security Advisory Board, the Defense Policy Board, the Defense Science Board and the National Academy of Sciences Committee on Science and Technology for Countering Terrorism.

Carter began his career as a physicist, receiving a Bachelor of Arts in physics and medieval history from Yale University in 1976. He was awarded the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship from the University of Oxford, where he earned his Ph.D. in physics in 1979.

Carter had a long academic career in addition to his government work. He served as both a professor and the director of the Center for Science and International Affairs in the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. Carter rejoined Harvard as a professor in 2017 and became the director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs — the new name of the center he previously headed at the school.

“He believed that his most profound legacy would be the thousands of students he taught with the hope that they would make the world a better and safer place,” his family said in their statement.

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