Washington, D.C. — Lloyd Austin, a retired four-star Army general, is now the nation’s first African American Secretary of Defense.
Austin was nominated by then President-elect Joe Biden to lead America’s military in 2020. A special waiver was required by Congress because under federal law, individuals must wait seven years after retiring from active duty before assuming the position.
Despite objections from some Congressional members about voting for the waiver, ultimately, the measure passed. In a separate vote, the Senate overwhelmingly confirmed Austin on Friday. He becomes the 28th Secretary of Defense, and first African American to head the Pentagon in the nation’s history.
In a “day one message to the force,” Austin wrote, “…I know all too well the sacrifices you make to keep this country safe. That safety is job one, and I promise to work as hard as you do at it.”
He continued: “The way I see it, my job as Secretary of Defense is to make you more effective at doing yours. That means ensuring you have the tools, technology, weapons, and training to deter and defeat our enemies. It means establishing sound policy and strategy and assigning you clear missions. It means putting a premium on cooperation with our allies and partners. And it means living up to our core values, the same ones our fellow citizens expect of us.”
According to the Congressional Record, Austin is a 1975 graduate of West Point with more than 40 years of service as a deeply experienced, highly decorated commander. The Mobile, Alabama native has served with distinction in several of the Pentagon’s most crucial roles.
He was the chief architect of the military campaign to defeat the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and became the second highest ranking commander in Iraq. Austin retired from the U.S. Army in 2016 as the first African American to serve as Commander of CENTCOM, the U.S. Central Command, where he oversaw America’s military strategy and joint operations throughout the Middle East and in Afghanistan.
Speaking on the House floor, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee described Austin as a “trailblazer,” who has “broken barriers in his historic ascent to the highest ranks of the military.”
Rep. Alma Adams (D-NC) applauded the historic nomination and confirmation.
“He is an American hero who is eminently qualified to serve our country and lead the forces that protect us,” she said.