Behind the Scenes: Secretary Kerry on the Road

Posted by Glen Johnson
May 6, 2013
Secretary Kerry Waves From His Airplane

I've had the privilege of traveling with Secretary Kerry on all of his trips since taking office, and have used that special access to take pictures aimed at capturing the unique nature of his work.  Here are a few of my favorites, as well as the stories behind them.

 

 

 During his first trip abroad, Secretary of State John Kerry came back to the press section of his plane to chat with the reporters accompanying him to Europe, the Middle East, and Persian Gulf. He makes these visits frequently, both on- and off-the-record, accompanied by members of his senior communications staff. During this February visit, it was Victoria Nuland, then the department’s spokesperson.

 

 

 Secretary of State John Kerry likes to mix a bit of history and exercise with his official diplomacy.  In this case, House of Commons Speaker John Bercow and United Kingdom Foreign Secretary William Hague showed him World War II bomb damage to the entrance of the House of Commons in the British Parliament during a February stop in London.

 

 

 This photo within a photo tells a rich story. During a February visit to Berlin, Secretary of State John Kerry decided to take a late-night walk. As he approached Brandenburg Gate, he pulled out a cellphone and took a photo. As an 11-year-old son of a Foreign Service Officer, he famously rode his bike through the gate, from West to East Germany. On this night, he walked through the other way in a united Germany -- and as the country's chief diplomat.

 

 

 John Kerry’s first day as Secretary of State coincided with a suicide attack on the U.S. Embassy in Ankara, Turkey. Exactly one month later, on his first trip abroad, he visited the embassy for a memorial service for Mustafa Akarsu, the Turkish national who stood guard over the Americans inside and lost his life in the attack. In this March photo, he greets the daughter and other relatives of Mr. Akarsu.  It was especially emotional moments earlier, as he hugged Akarsu’s widow.

 

 

 Wherever he travels, Secretary of State John Kerry likes to thank the Marine Security Guard detachment that protects workers in U.S. embassies and consulates. The Navy veteran chats with the Marines about where they are from, how long they have been in country, and he gives them a special admonition to be safe. This group gathered in March in their dress uniforms outside one of the buildings at Embassy Baghdad.

 

 

 Secretary of State John Kerry surveyed Kabul, Afghanistan, as he arrived in a Blackhawk helicopter in March for meetings with President Hamid Karzai and employees at the U.S. Embassy. The thump-thump-thump of the rotors requires earphones, and the Secretary frequently uses the communications button so he can speak directly to the pilots.

 

 

 As the son of a Foreign Service Officer, Secretary of State John Kerry feels a special kinship for the children of State Department and USAID workers. In this April photo, he bent down to speak eye-to-eye with a group connected to the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem. The girl with the pink shirt and her mouth open later hugged his waist during a more formal portrait.

 

 

 Secretary Kerry is a fan of walks. During a break in an April G-8 foreign ministerial meeting in London, he was strolling through Green Park when he asked me about the crowds assembling nearby, outside Buckingham Palace. I told him it was the Changing of the Guard ceremony and he said, “Let’s go.” As we left, an Argentinian tourist asked him for a photo.

 

 

 I was waiting with a couple of staff members for Secretary Kerry to finish an April meeting with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang when the early evening breeze caused a flutter in the U.S. flag on the Secretary's car as it sat parked outside the Purple Light Pavilion in Beijing. Far from home, yes, but not far from country.

 

 

 It’s rare for Secretary Kerry to get a moment of pause on the road, but in this photo, I saw him relaxing against a colorful backdrop during a break in meetings at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium. He laughed as a staff member related an equally colorful story.

 
About the Author: Glen Johnson serves as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs.
 

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