By Michael Norris, Pentagram Assistant EditorApril 8, 2013
The Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies at National Defense University added a prefix to the center's name April 2 when it became the William J. Perry Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies, paying tribute to the former secretary of defense who was instrumental in establishing the center.
Perry was the guest of honor Tuesday in a ceremony at NDU's Abraham Lincoln Hall, on the Fort McNair portion of Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, recognizing the name change. Perry served as secretary of defense from 1994-1997 under President Bill Clinton. He currently serves on the Defense Policy Board and the Secretary of Energy Policy Board.
Addressing an audience that included ambassadors and a retired U.S. senator, Acting Director of the center, Kenneth A. LaPlante, led off the ceremony by citing Perry's many contributions to national security.
"The William J. Perry Center is a direct result of Dr. Perry's vision more than 18 years ago for a new, more collaborative and secure Americas based on civil-military relationships, based on rule-of-law, democratic values and mutual trust and confidence in one another," LaPlante said.
"He [Perry] foresaw an institution that would provide quality education opportunities to defense officials - civilian and military - of the nations of the western hemisphere."
LaPlante next introduced Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, who called Perry his first and current mentor; someone who had fulfilled that role for many people.
"Bill's a mathematician, and that's one thing you need to know about him," Carter said, citing how Perry's head for numbers helped him embrace new technologies and understand budget constraints as he worked his way up through the defense establishment.
Describing Perry as someone with "a brilliant mind coupled to integrity," Carter reeled off a list of initiatives the secretary of defense was behind, including efforts to eliminate nuclear weapons, to expand NATO, bring peace to the Balkans and establish new security relationships with Russia and China.
"Above all, Bill was an unwavering supporter of our troops, championing enlisted service members, an advocate for better housing for our troops, an advocate for better pay," Carter told the audience. "To quote [Gen.] John Shalikashvili, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a longtime admirer, 'Bill Perry was the GI secretary of defense.'"
After the center's new flag, which incorporated the secretary of defense's name, was unveiled on stage, Perry took the podium.
He said he originally saw a need for a center that could serve the same purpose as the Marshall Center in Germany, which serves defense organizations in Eastern European countries, or the Asian-Pacific Center, which performs a similar function in its region.
"I must say, that when I left office a few years later, I feared that these developments could go away... which sometimes happens with initiatives a secretary takes," Perry said. "I'm so pleased that every secretary since then has seen fit to support this center ... making it the great educational institution it is today."
Perry said the center's original focus was to explain to military and civilian defense personnel how a defense establishment works in a democracy. "That may seem obvious and simple to all of you, but believe me, it's not obvious and simple to many of the countries of the world," he said.
The center and its work has "been sustained, it's grown and it's prospered," Perry said. "It gives military and defense officials from other countries the opportunity to meet with and mix with the military officials from our country." That way, he said, "They learn from each other."
Prior to having Perry's name being added to the Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies, the 19th secretary of defense was previously recognized by the center when it established a scholastic award in his honor: the William J. Perry Award for Excellence in Security and Defense Education.