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Top generals James Mattis and John Allen offer praise for Ashton Carter

Ashton Carter listens as President Obama announces his nomination of Carter to be the next defense secretary in the Roosevelt Room at the White House on Friday. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

President Obama introduced former deputy defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter as his new defense secretary nominee on Friday by praising him as a reformer who has never been afraid to cancel old or inefficient weapons programs. But the president quickly added that Carter has demonstrated “relentless dedication” to the safety of U.S. troops, and has saved lives in the process.

“When he cut outdated, unneeded systems, he did it because he was trying to free up money for our troops to make sure they had the weapons and the gear that they needed and the quality of life for themselves and their families that they deserve,” Obama said. “When our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan were struggling to defend against roadside bombs, he moved heaven and earth to rush new body armor and vehicles.”

It’s one thing for a sitting president to praise his own nominee. But retired Marine Gens. John Allen and James Mattis offered very similar thoughts on Carter, a career bureaucrat and physicist, when contacted by Checkpoint. They described him as forward-thinking leader with a history of going above and beyond to help rank-and-file troops from the positions he has held.

Allen, who is now coordinating the international response to the Islamic State militant group, said Carter consistently “bent the bureaucracies” in the Defense Department to do so, earning his gratitude.

“There are hundreds, perhaps even thousands of our troops alive today because Ash Carter led the charge on so many fronts in the Iraq and Afghan wars,” said Allen, who was the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan from July 2011 to February 2013.

Mattis, who retired as commanding general of U.S. Central Command in March 2013, said he first met Carter in the 1990s, when he was stationed in Washington and Carter was assistant secretary of defense for international security policy. Carter has always been helpful and concerned about what rank-and-file troops need on the battlefield, he said.

Carter’s reputation was earned in part by pushing new armored trucks known as Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles, or MRAPs, to the field to protect combat troops from roadside bombs while serving under then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates on an “MRAP Task Force.” Carter described the effort in a Foreign Affairs article early this year.

“With the support of Congress (including substantial flexible funding) and the attention of the most senior Pentagon officials, we decided to focus above all on getting MRAPs made quickly, accepting significant tradeoffs on less important parameters, such as the number of troops each could carry and their suitability for other kinds of conflicts,” Carter wrote.

“We considered only mature technology and chose manufacturers based on their ability to deliver the vehicles as soon as possible,” he added. “The task force anticipated and helped alleviate potential industry bottlenecks that could have held up the process — for example, by paying to boost the production capacity of two tire-makers and by waiving regulations to allow the army to purchase specially hardened steel.”

More than 11,5000 MRAPs were built and shipped to Iraq in 27 months, more than 8,000 all-terrain MRAPs were sent to Afghanistan in 16 months, Carter recalled.

“Not only did these vehicles save thousands of lives,” Carter concluded, “They also showed just how much can be accomplished with the full backing of leaders in Congress and the administration.”