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Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker Receives 2020 Thayer Award

Ambassador Ryan Crocker West Point AOG Thayer Award Recipient

On October 1, 2020, the West Point Association of Graduates presented the 2020 Sylvanus Thayer Award to Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker, a six-time U.S. ambassador with more than four decades of experience in the U.S. Foreign Service. In his remarks prior to bestowing the award upon Ambassador Crocker, WPAOG Chairman Lieutenant General Joe DeFrancisco ’65 (Retired), said “His leadership, love of country, and untiring efforts to make our nation better and stronger are lessons all Americans can admire.”

During his career, Ambassador Crocker served four U.S. presidents, two of whom have also received the Thayer Award: George H.W. Bush in 1994 and George W. Bush in 2017. Ambassador Crocker has also served with former Secretaries of State Madeleine Albright and Condoleezza Rice, who also received the Thayer Award in 2013 and 2014, respectively. “To receive the Thayer Award and join that distinguished company of recipients is an honor far beyond my merits,” Crocker says. “Through its selection of recipients over the years, WPAOG has sent an important message on inclusivity and a whole-of-government approach to our nation’s challenges.” While several diplomats have received the Thayer Award over the years, Ambassador Crocker becomes only the second Foreign Service officer to do so (Robert Murphy, in 1974, was the first).

Ambassador Crocker’s distinguished service to the country began in 1971, when he joined the U.S. Foreign Service, receiving an assignment the following year to the American Consulate in Khorramshahr, Iran. Subsequent assignments took him to Doha, Qatar; Tunis, Tunisia; Baghdad, Iraq; and Beirut, Lebanon, where he served as chief of the political section from 1981 to 1984 and survived the 1983 U.S. Embassy bombing. In 1984, Ambassador Crocker returned to the United States and attended the Near Eastern studies program at Princeton University. After serving as deputy director of the Office of Israel and Arab–Israeli affairs (1985-87) and as political counselor at the American Embassy in Cairo, Egypt (1987-90), he was selected by President George H.W. Bush to serve as U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon. President Bill Clinton retained his services, first naming him as the U.S. Ambassador to Kuwait in 1994 and then the U.S. Ambassador to Syria in 1999. After the 9/11 attacks, Ambassador Crocker was appointed in January 2002 to become chargé d’affaires ad interim to the new government of Afghanistan and, in October 2004, was confirmed as U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan. A month prior, President George W. Bush conferred on him the diplomatic rank of Career Ambassador, the highest rank in the Foreign Service, equivalent to a four-star officer in the military. In 2007, President Bush selected him to be U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, and in this position, he reported to the U.S. Congress about the political gains being made in Iraq due to “the Surge.” He retired from the Foreign Service in 2009 and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award. Two years later, however, President Barack Obama recalled him to active duty, selecting him to serve as U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan.

“His storied career is a master class in Middle East affairs and public diplomacy,” said Lieutenant General Darryl Williams ’83, USMA Superintendent. “Few have had such a profound impact on history as Ambassador Ryan Crocker.”

Earlier in the day, cadets from the Black and Gold Forum and those taking the Department of Social Sciences’ SS357: Advanced International Relations course had the opportunity to sit in on Ambassador Crocker’s “master class” and pose questions to the seasoned diplomat. In both sessions, Ambassador Crocker stressed the new “messy” world that the cadets will find upon graduation, one in which wars are likely political in nature and will not be solved by military means alone, and he challenged the cadets to figure how to improve and systematize civilian-military relations.

Ambassador Crocker returned to the theme of institutionalizing the civ-mil relationship at the entry-level during his speech to the Corps upon accepting the Thayer Award. “I’m delighted to hear that the number of International Relation majors at West Point has skyrocketed,” he said. “It is getting to be a big, messy, political-military world out there, and experience shows that the curriculum that SOSH has developed is one of our more effective fighting tools—this department will stand with any in the country.” Ambassador Crocker, who was the Dean of the George Bush School of Government & Public Service at Texas A&M and is a former Diplomat in Residence at the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs, would know. His first visit to West Point came via an invitation from SOSH in 1984, and he has been following the program ever since.

Ambassador Crocker’s Thayer Award speech also addressed the impact of Foreign Service officers, the experiences he has had with the U.S. Army and numerous members of the Long Gray Line, and the need to never forget the sacrifices of host-country nationals who have served the U.S. as interpreters nor the sacrifices of Gold Star families, placing all of these topics within the framework of Duty, Honor, Country.

“The core Academy values—Duty, Honor, Country—are qualities that I have tried to follow through out my Foreign Service career,” Crocker says: “Duty—for the most difficult and dangerous assignments, send me; Honor—to those with whom we serve, to the values we cherish and uphold, to our causes that are always greater than we are individually; and Country—the greatest on earth, deriving its power not only from its weapons but from its principles, and constantly striving to be better.”

Prior to the medal award ceremony, like all Thayer Award recipients before him, Ambassador Crocker had the opportunity to troop the line with the Superintendent during a review of the Corps of Cadets, which was assembled in formation on the Plain in his honor. Given COVID-19 restrictions, West Point livestreamed the Thayer Award Parade and Ambassador Crocker’s acceptance speech for anyone who wanted to watch them.

Since 1958, the West Point Association of Graduates has presented the Sylvanus Thayer Award to an outstanding citizen of the United States whose service and accomplishments in the national interest exemplify personal devotion to the ideals expressed in the West Point motto, “Duty, Honor, Country.”