CHICAGO – The family of an American diplomat who was among those killed in a terrorist attack in southern Afghanistan has taken solace in knowing she died doing what she loved.
Anne Smedinghoff, the first American diplomat to die on the job since last year’s attack in Benghazi, Libya, was one of five Americans killed Saturday in a suicide car bombing while they were delivering textbooks to school children. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.
The 25-year-old suburban Chicago woman was remembered as having a quiet ambition and displayed a love of global affairs from an early age. She joined the U.S. Foreign Service straight out of college and volunteered for missions in perilous locations worldwide.
“It was a great adventure for her, ... She loved it,” her father, Tom Smedinghoff, told The Associated Press on Sunday. “She was tailor-made for this job.”
Anne Smedinghoff grew up in River Forest, the daughter of an attorney and the second of four children. She attended the highly selective Fenwick High School, followed by Johns Hopkins University, where she majored in international studies and became a key organizer of the university’s annual Foreign Affairs Symposium in 2008. The event draws high-profile speakers from around the world.
Speaking in a telephone interview Monday from the Afghan capital of Kabul, Solmaz Sharisi said her desk was next to Smedinghoff’s at the embassy, where they both worked as assistant information officers. Working frequently with Western and Afghan journalists, the two became close friends, Sharisi said.
“What I admired most was her energy and enthusiasm and an unwavering commitment to the work she was doing,” Sharisi said. “And it really did have an impact.”
One of Smedinghoff’s favorite projects was working with the Afghan women’s soccer team and helping it gain greater acceptance inside Afghanistan. To ensure she would better interact with the Afghan players, Smedinghoff even practiced her own soccer skills on her days off, Sharisi said.
“She was young but she almost seemed like a seasoned foreign diplomat,” Sharisi said.
Smedinghoff’s remains of were being flown to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware for an official ceremony, according to State Department, which added the family had asked Monday’s ceremony be private. The family is expected to attend along with Undersecretary of State Patrick Kennedy, Ambassador David Pearce and other officials.
While a student in Baltimore, Smedinghoff worked part time for Sam Hopkins, an attorney near campus. He described her as ambitious “but in a wonderfully quiet, modest way.”
Her first assignment for the foreign service was in Caracas, Venezuela, and she volunteered for the Afghanistan assignment after that. Her father said family members would tease her about signing up for a less dangerous location, maybe London or Paris.
“She said, ‘What would I do in London or Paris? It would be so boring,’” her father recalled. In her free time, she would travel as much as possible, her father said.
Smedinghoff was an up-and-coming employee of the State Department who garnered praise from the highest ranks. She was to finish her Afghanistan assignment as a press officer in July. Already fluent in Spanish, she was gearing up to learn Arabic, first for a year in the U.S. and then in Cairo, before a two-year assignment in Algeria.
Secretary of State John Kerry said Sunday at a news conference in Turkey that Smedinghoff was “vivacious, smart” and “capable.” Smedinghoff had assisted Kerry during a visit to Afghanistan two weeks ago.
He also described Smedinghoff as “a selfless, idealistic woman who woke up yesterday morning and set out to bring textbooks to school children, to bring them knowledge.”
Her father said they knew the assignments were dangerous, though she spent most of her time at the U.S. Embassy compound. Trips outside were in heavily armored convoys — as was Saturday’s trip that killed five Americans, including Smedinghoff. The U.S. Department of Defense did not release the names of the others who died: three soldiers and one employee.
“It’s like a nightmare, you think will go away and it’s not,” he said. “We keep saying to ourselves, we’re just so proud of her, we take consolation in the fact that she was doing what she loved.”
Friends remembered her Sunday for her charity work too.
Smedinghoff participated in a 2009 cross-country bike ride for The 4K for Cancer — part of the Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults — according to the group. She served on the group’s board of directors after the ride from Baltimore to San Francisco.
“She was an incredible young woman. She was always optimistic,” said Ryan Hanley, a founder of the group. “She always had a smile on her face and incredible devotion to serving others.”
Johns Hopkins officials mourned her death in a letter on Sunday to students, faculty and alumni. Smedinghoff graduated in 2009. In the letter, University President Ronald J. Daniels praised her work on the symposium, her involvement in her sorority, Kappa Alpha Theta, and her involvement outside campus too.
“Her selfless action for others was nothing new,” he wrote.
Funeral arrangements for Smedinghoff are pending.