CHICAGO - Anne Smedinghoff had a quiet ambition and displayed a love of global affairs from an early age, joining the U.S. Foreign Service straight out of college and volunteering for missions in perilous locations worldwide.
So when the 25-year-old suburban Chicago woman was killed Saturday in southern Afghanistan — the first American diplomat to die on the job since last year’s attack in Benghazi, Libya — her family took solace in the fact that she died doing something she loved.
“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, Ill. — an upscale suburb about 10 miles west of Chicago — 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 studied international relations 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.
Those who knew Smedinghoff described her as a positive, hard-working and dependable young woman.
While a student in Baltimore, she 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.”
“Anne and those with her,” Kerry said, “were attacked by the Taliban terrorists who woke up that day not with a mission to educate or to help, but with a mission to destroy. A brave American was determined to brighten the light of learning through books, written in the native tongue of the students she had never met, whom she felt it incumbent to help.”
Kerry said Smedinghoff “was met by a cowardly terrorist determined to bring darkness and death to total strangers. These are the challenges that our citizens face, not just in Afghanistan but in many dangerous parts of the world — where a nihilism, an empty approach, is willing to take life rather than give it.”
The attack also killed three U.S. service members, a U.S. civilian who worked for the U.S. Defense Department and an Afghan doctor when the group was struck by an explosion while traveling to a school in southern Afghanistan, according to coalition officials and the State Department.
Another American civilian was killed in a separate attack in eastern Afghanistan, the U.S. military said in a statement, making Saturday the deadliest day for Americans since Aug. 16, when seven U.S. service members died in two attacks in Kandahar province, the birthplace of the Taliban insurgency.
Smedinghoff’s 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.
“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.”
Funeral arrangements for Smedinghoff are pending.
A Taliban spokesman claimed responsibility and said the bomber was seeking to target either a coalition convoy or the governor.
Kerry said the terrorists only “strengthened the resolve of the nation, the diplomatic corps, the military, all resources determined to continue the hard work of helping people to help themselves.”
He said “America does not and will not cower before terrorism. We are going to forge on, we’re going to step up. ... We put ourselves in harm’s way because we believe in giving hope to our brothers and sisters all over the world, knowing that we share universal human values with people all over the world — the dignity of opportunity and progress,” the Obama administration’s top diplomat said.
“So it is now up to us to determine what the legacy of this tragedy will be. Where others seek to destroy, we intend to show a stronger determination in order to brighten our shared future, even when others try to darken it with violence. That was Anne’s mission,” he added.
The deaths brought the number of foreign military troops killed this year to 30, including 22 Americans. A total of six foreign civilians have died in Afghanistan so far this year, according to an AP count.
The Taliban have said civilians working for the government or the coalition are legitimate targets, despite a warning from the United Nations that such killings may violate international law.