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Kerry: 'I have big heels to fill'

On his first day as Secretary of State, John Kerry joked about being a man in what’s been a woman’s agency for nearly a decade.

"Here's the big question before the country and the world and the State Department after the last eight years: can a man actually run the State Department?” Kerry told a large and enthusiastic crowd of Foreign Service Officers and staff at Foggy Bottom. “As the saying goes, ‘I have big heels to fill’.”

Of course, Kerry was talking about replacing Hillary Clinton (D) and Condoleezza Rice (R) before that in the Bush administration, but going slightly further back, there hasn’t been a white male to head State in 16 years, since Warren Christopher under Clinton.

Establishing his "bona fides" with the diplomats, he waved his first diplomatic passport: given him when he was a 12-year-old boy traveling to Berlin with his father and family for their assignment at the post-war U.S. embassy. 

Speaking Monday, incoming Secretary of State John Kerry asked, jokingly, "Can a man actually run the State Department?" NBC's Brian Williams reports.

He even told a story about using it to ride his bike into East Berlin on the wrong side of the wall, saying he got a tongue-lashing later from his father, who told him he could have become an international incident. His passport was lifted, and he was grounded.

The State Department has been besieged by bad news in recent months – from the killing of U.S. Amb. Chris Stevens and three other Americans at a consulate in Benghazi, Libya, to the suicide bombing in front of the U.S. embassy in Ankara, Turkey.

“So I pledge to you: I will not let their patriotism and their bravery be obscured by politics, No. 1,” he said of those who died in Benghazi. “No. 2, I guarantee you that beginning this morning, when I report for duty upstairs, everything I do will be focused on the security and safety of our people."

Kerry ended on an idealistic note.

“What other job can you have where you get up every day and advance the cause of nation and also keep faith with the ideals of your country on which it is founded, and most critically meet our obligations to our fellow travelers on this planet?” he said. “That's as good as it gets, and I'm proud to be part of it with you. So now let's get to work.”

After Kerry’s speech, he placed calls to his counterparts in Britain, France, and Germany, three of America’s closest allies.

After meeting with senior staff, Kerry met the Afghan National Institute of Music Group which was in the building today. Later, he will briefed on the implementation of the Accountability Review Board’s recommendations on how to prevent another attack like the one in Benghazi.