ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Thank you, Craig, for your leadership and for serving as emcee this morning and for doing so twice in one week!
A few acknowledgments at the top: A big welcome to Gloria Steele, my predecessor, who was Administrator of USAID last year before I was sworn in and was herself a former Mission Director. I know that you worked closely with Reed for the better part of a decade, and I’m so grateful that you could tune in to support him today.
Welcome also to Jonathan Addleton, who, like Reed, spent his entire career in Asia. He is the former U.S. Ambassador to Mongolia and served as Mission Director himself in Mongolia, Cambodia, Pakistan, Central Asia, and India. Welcome as well to Jim Bever, also a former Mission Director in Afghanistan, Egypt, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and Ghana, and who served as Director of the Task Force in Afghanistan and Pakistan. I’m grateful to both of you for joining today, and thank you for your many years of service at this Agency.
While she is unable to join us today, I want to acknowledge our previous Mission Director, Julie Koenen. Julie served as Mission Director over the last three years, during a significant transition. Julie oversaw the Mission’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent vaccine campaign, the withdrawal from Afghanistan just across the border, and dramatic shifts in political and economic dynamics within Pakistan itself. We’re grateful for her service, not just in Pakistan but now as our new Deputy Assistant Administrator of the Bureau for Conflict Prevention and Stabilization.
A special welcome to Reed’s family: his wife, Li Po, and their daughter DeeDee, who are here today in person; as well as three of his sisters, Merna, Carma, Lila, who are here virtually. And thank you to the dozens of other guests tuning in from all over the world—Reed’s friends, family, and colleagues, as well as staff from our Missions.
Reed grew up in a small town in northwest Ohio, just shy of the Michigan and Indiana borders, with a population of under 600. The only boy of five children, he grew up on a farm run by his parents, both of whom came from farming families with Swiss and German roots.
Interestingly, Reed’s ancestors helped drain the swamp. And no, I don’t mean DC. I mean the Black Swamp in northwest Ohio. Though, Reed’s successful career in government now makes a lot more sense!
From his time on the family farm, Reed learned to work hard, live simply, and take ownership of the family’s work. As a young boy, no older than twelve, he ran the farm while his father was off working a second job. Single-handedly, he would clean out the sheds, work in the fields, and feed all the animals, much to the pleasant surprise of his father, who would return to find the farm duties mostly taken care of. And as a high school junior, he won the Reserve Champion Ribbon for showing his prize Charolais steer at the county fair. And no, he’s not even a little bit bitter about losing the top prize to the Black Angus.
Despite his small-town roots, Reed had always longed to see the world. And when he graduated from college and applied to the Peace Corps, his time on the farm helped him do just that. He was placed in Thailand as an Agricultural Extension Agent. When he arrived, his Thai neighbors, frustrated by his last name, gave him a new name, one that would stick for his entire service period: “Santi,” meaning “peace.”
For two years, Reed or Santi, whichever you prefer, criss-crossed the region on a motorcycle purchased with assistance from the Peace Corps, immersing himself in his new community and in Thai culture. He helped communities complete animal husbandry projects, procure chicken egg incubators, and construct and maintain vegetable plots. He met then-Director of the Peace Corps, Loret Ruppe, who visited his site during a trip to Thailand. And he was even ordained as a Buddhist monk in his village for a month close to the end of his assignment.
Reed’s time in Thailand inspired a deep love and interest in Asian affairs. After the Peace Corps, he enrolled at Ohio University for a degree in Southeast Asia Studies, where he met his wife, Li Po, an exchange student from Beijing studying physics. After a brief stint as a legal consultant for private businesses in Asia, Reed eventually found his way to USAID in 2000.
Since then, his 22 years here at the Agency have taken him across Asia from India to Afghanistan to Cambodia to Sri Lanka. And in each post, Reed left his mark, envisioning and creating entire programs from scratch. In India, he began a mid-sized venture capital program at a time when venture capital was not the established industry it is now. In Cambodia, he expanded a microenterprise project to include medium enterprises as well. And in Afghanistan, he created the Economic Growth Office and manned it himself until shortly before he left in 2005.
According to his colleagues, Reed was also known in Afghanistan for his culinary skills. “Everyone was living in a shipping container back in those days, but Reed's was kitted out, since he was a master chef!" He made Asian food, mostly, no surprise.
Reed also demonstrated a knack for handling stressful situations. In 2010, Reed returned to Afghanistan for a second tour of duty, where he managed the Mission’s biggest office, the infrastructure office, and supported the rehabilitation of the Kajaki Dam.
And most recently, he led our Mission in Sri Lanka and Maldives through a tumultuous four years. The year after he took the reins, terrorists bombed churches and luxury hotels in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, killing at least 250 people. Reed worked around the clock to make sure Mission employees were safe, communicated constantly with local staff, and provided local partners with verified security information.
Just a year after the bombings, when Sri Lanka locked down in an effort to stem the COVID-19 pandemic, he kept an open line between staff and leadership, helped secure supplies for colleagues, and worked with the Embassy to provide access to internet and technical equipment for foreign and local employees. And when Sri Lanka fell into an economic crisis just this year, he worked to keep staff safe even as protests erupted into violence just blocks from the Mission.
Today, Reed takes on yet another Asia post, and one of his toughest to date: Mission Director for USAID Pakistan.
And he takes on his new post at a critical time for the country.
In the wake of a parliamentary vote of no confidence that brought a new Prime Minister to power, today Pakistan faces the possibility of defaulting on nearly three billion dollars in global debt. Inflation is soaring just as it is globally, driving up both fuel and food prices.
Pakistan also faces rising threats from religious intolerance and terrorist violence. And as the country identifies its eighth case of polio, there remains a significant need to help the Pakistani people access vaccines against major public health threats and to strengthen the country’s health system.
Over time, the scope and scale of our financial assistance to Pakistan has changed, and Reed will be charged with optimizing our Mission’s strategy both in the short-term, and for the next five years of a new Country Development Cooperation Strategy. But even if budgets ebb and flow, our commitment to the people of Pakistan does not. Reed will be inheriting a legacy of meaningful development successes and effective partnership with the Government of Pakistan, particularly in health and education. Together, we provide quality primary and higher education with a special focus on Pakistani women and girls, and also support the health system and the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. But we also helped the country’s small businesses go digital during COVID lockdowns, helping boost online sales when retail sales dried up. And by supporting the country’s domestic PPE industry, we helped lower the cost of an N95 in the country from $17 to 40 cents. These efforts reflect the reality that this Agency’s relationship with, and commitment to, the people of Pakistan is foundational.
It will be up to Reed, with his Ohio-rooted work ethic, his can-do attitude, his long career working in Asian affairs, and his demonstrated ability to handle any challenge that comes his way, to embark upon a new chapter in our relationship with the people of Pakistan, and I am thrilled he’s taking up the charge.
With that, Reed Santi Aeschliman, it is my pleasure to administer the oath of office.