“It’s an honor and a privilege to serve as our country’s 28th Secretary of Defense, and I’m especially proud to be the first African American to hold the position,” Austin tweeted after his confirmation. “Let’s get to work.”
The United States Senate confirmed Lloyd J. Austin III as the Defense Secretary on January 22. This puts the first Black American in charge of all military action of the Pentagon by a nearly unanimous vote of 93-2. Shortly after his confirmation, Lloyd was sworn in by Tom Muir, the acting director of Washington Headquarters Services.
Austin in a tweet said that it was an “an honor and a privilege” to serve in his position as the defense secretary, noting that he was “especially proud” to be the first African American to hold such a position. The Pentagon reported that Austin, immediately after taking the office, assumed his roles and was part of an intelligence briefing and meetings with his Deputy, David Norquist, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley.
Mr. Lloyd, 67, will oversee 1.3 million active servicemen and women who make up the national military. The approval by the senate meant a second cabinet official, and another crucial member of his national security team after Avril Haines was confirmed on Wednesday as the first woman to serve as the director of national intelligence.
The Senate Armed Services Committee advanced Lloyd’s nomination while also approving a requisite waiver that was necessary due to a law requiring active-duty members to wait for at least 7 years before serving as defense secretary. Austin retired from active duty just 4 years ago and during Trump’s tenure, Congress had to issue a waiver again for James Mattis in 2017. This made Senators hesitant to approve another waiver in such a short period of time. The Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell said that the Senate should “pause and reflect” after giving waivers for both the presidents.
“The law that we keep waiving actually exists for a good reason,” McConnell said. “Civilian control of the military is a fundamental principle of our republic.”
Earlier, Lloyd had tried to stave off the tension during his confirmation hearing, “Let me say at the outset that I understand and respect the reservations some of you have expressed about having another recently retired general at the head of the Department of Defense,” Austin stated. “The safety and security of our democracy demand competent civilian control of our armed forces, the subordination of military power to the civil.” This Austin said, while also noting that he would surround himself with well-abled peoples to make policy decisions.
Lloyd culminated his career serving as the 12th Commander of the U.S. Central Command from 22nd March 2013 to 30th March 2016. He was responsible for military strategies and joint operations throughout the Middle East and Central Asia. Lloyd also served as the Combined Forces Commander, where he oversaw the military campaign to defeat terrorist organization ISIL in Iraq and Syria.
Lloyd is a native of Thomasville, Georgia. He attended the United States Military Academy at West Point, graduating in 1975 with a commission in Infantry. During his nearly 41 years in the Military, Lloyd has commanded units almost at every echelon, with notable duties in Panama, Iraq, Germany, Afghanistan, and in the United States. He also has the extraordinary distinction of having commanded troops in combat at the 1-, 2-, 3- and 4-star levels. After his first assignment with U.S. Army Europe, General Austin was assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, N.C., where he commanded a company and served as an assistant brigade operations officer. General Austin then commanded the second company in Indianapolis, IN before earning a Master’s Degree from Auburn University and serving as a Company Tactical Officer at West Point.
After that, he was assigned to the 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum, NY where he served as Battalion operations officer and brigade executive officer. He later commanded 2nd Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division including deployment for Operation SAFE HAVEN in Panama. He returned to the 82nd Airborne Division and Fort Bragg where he served as the division operations officer and later commanded the 3rd Brigade.
From July 2001 to June 2003, General Austin served as the Assistant Division Commander for Maneuver for the 3rd Infantry Division, helping to spearhead the invasion into Iraq in March 2003. Under his leadership, the division conducted the historic maneuver from Kuwait to Baghdad and seized the capital city in a record 22 days. From September 2003 to August 2005, he served as the Commanding General, 10th Mountain Division including deployment and command of Combined Joint Task Force-180 in support of Operation ENDURING FREEDOM, Afghanistan. From February 2008 to August 2009, he served as the Commanding General, Multi-National Corps – Iraq (XVIIIth Airborne Corps) during the period when the surge forces were drawing down. Later, he served as the Commanding General, United States Force – Iraq, from September 2010 until December 2011, overseeing the responsible transition of all U.S. military forces and equipment out of the country by the December 2011 deadline. From February 2012 until March 2013, he was the Vice Chief of Staff of the Army.
Other significant assignments include Chief, Joint Operations Division, J-3, Joint Staff (Pentagon); Chief of Staff, United States Central Command; and Director of the Joint Staff (Pentagon).
Since retiring from active military service on 1 May 2016, General Austin founded and is the Owner and President of Austin Strategy Group, LLC. On June 8, 2016, he was elected to the United Technologies Corporation Board of Directors, effective September 1, 2016. He joined the Board of Directors of NUCOR Steel in September of 2017 and Tenet HealthCare in May of 2018,
General Austin achieved a number of notable “firsts” over the course of his career. He was the first African American general officer to command a U.S. Army Division in combat (10th Mountain Division/Combined Joint Task Force-180). He was the first African American general officer to lead a Corps in combat (XVIIIth Airborne Corps/Multi-National Corps-Iraq). He was the first African American general officer to command an entire theater of war (U.S. Forces-Iraq). He was also the first African American to serve as the Vice Chief of Staff of the Army and as Commander of U.S. Central Command.
He holds a Bachelor of Science degree from the U.S. Military Academy (USMA), a Master’s Degree in Education from Auburn University, and a Master’s Degree in Business Management from Webster University. He received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Auburn University Alumni Association in 2012 and is a member of Auburn University Board of Trustees. He was recently named a USMA 2017 Distinguished Graduate Award recipient. He is also a member of the Carnegie Corporation of New York’s Board of Trustees.
Future Plans as Secretary of Defense
The week to his confirmation, Austin appeared before the senate armed services committee and was asked how he would address right-wing extremism and white nationalism within the military, and in particular where officials investigate the involvement of current and former service members in the violent attack on the US Capitol. Austin said that he was committed to rooting out domestic extremism, telling the senators that: “The job of the Department of Defense is to keep America safe from our enemies. But we can’t do that if some of those enemies lie within our own ranks.”
The president nominated Austin in order to help build the American legacy and to also restore relationships broken with allies during Trump’s administration. He is also expected to orient the defense department towards confronting threats that range from potential future pandemics to climate emergencies and refugee crises.
“In my judgment, there is no question that he is the right person for this job at the right moment, leading the Department of Defense at this moment in our nation’s history,” Biden said as he announced his nomination of Austin for the role last month. He called Austin the “definition of duty, honor, and country” and a leader “feared by our adversaries, known and respected by our allies”.