Biden nominates retired general Lloyd Austin as defense secretary

By Stuart Ibberson, editor
President-elect Joe Biden has nominated retired Gen. Lloyd Austin III as secretary of defense.

“Today, I ask Lloyd Austin to once more take on a mission for the United States of America — this time as the secretary-designate of the Department of Defense. I know he will do an outstanding job,” Biden wrote in an op-ed published by The Atlantic on Dec. 8.

“In his more than 40 years in the United States Army, Austin met every challenge with extraordinary skill and profound personal decency. He is a true and tested soldier and leader. I’ve spent countless hours with him, in the field and in the White House Situation Room.”

If confirmed by the Senate, Austin would make history as the first African American to head the department. If confirmed, he will become the United States’ 28th Defense Secretary.

Austin currently serves on the board of directors of Raytheon Technologies. He was originally on the board of directors for United Technologies, a position he assumed in 2016, until the merger with Raytheon. He also serves on the boards of directors of Nucor Corporation, Tenet Healthcare Corporation and Guest Services, Inc., and on the board of trustees of the Carnegie Corporation of New York and Auburn University.

Austin, 67, retired from the U.S. Army in 2016 after 41 years in the service. Born in Mobile, Ala., in 1953, and raised in Thomasville, Ga., Austin graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1975.

His first duty station was with the 3rd Infantry Division (Mechanized) in Germany. Following this assignment and attendance at the Infantry Officer Advanced Course, he was assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, N.C., where he commanded the Combat Support Company, 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 508th Infantry and served as the Assistant S-3 (Operations) for 1st Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division.

In 1981, Austin was assigned to Indianapolis, Indiana, where he was the operations officer for the U.S. Army Indianapolis District Recruiting Command and later commanded a company in the U.S. Army Recruiting Battalion. Upon completing this assignment, he attended Auburn University, where he completed studies for a master’s degree in education. He was then assigned to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, where he served as a Company Tactical Officer. After his selection and subsequent completion of the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, he was assigned to the 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry), Fort Drum, N.Y., where he served as the S-3 (Operations) and later executive officer for the 2nd Battalion, 22nd Infantry. He subsequently served as Executive Officer for 1st Brigade, 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry) and later as Director of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security for Fort Drum.

In 1993, Austin returned to the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, where he commanded the 2nd Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment. He later served as the G-3 for the 82nd Airborne Division. Following graduation from the U.S. Army War College at Carlisle Barracks, Penn., he commanded the 3rd Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg. Shortly after Brigade command, he was assigned to The Pentagon, where he served as Chief, Joint Operations Division, J-3, on the Joint Staff. His next assignment was as Assistant Division Commander for Maneuver, 3rd Infantry Division (Mechanized), Fort Stewart, Ga. As the ADC-M, he helped spearhead the division’s invasion of Iraq in March 2003.

Austin served from September 2003 until August 2005 as the Commanding General of the 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry), with duty as Commander, Combined Joint Task Force 180, during the War in Afghanistan. His next position was Chief of Staff of the United States Central Command at MacDill AFB, in Tampa, Fla., from September 2005 until October 2006.

On Dec. 8, 2006, Austin was promoted to lieutenant general, and assumed command of the XVIII Airborne Corps, Fort Bragg. Austin handed over command of XVIII Corps to become Director of the Joint Staff in August 2009.

In February 2008, Austin became the second highest ranking commander in Iraq, taking command of the Multi-National Corps – Iraq (MNC-I). As commander of MNC-I, he directed the operations of approximately 152,000 joint and coalition forces in all sectors of Iraq.

Lloyd Austin (Army photograph)

On Sept. 1, 2010, Austin became Commanding General of U.S. Forces – Iraq (USF-I) at a ceremony at the al-Faw palace in Baghdad, Iraq. He took over from Gen. Ray Odierno. Vice President Joe Biden, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen presided over the ceremony. As CG, USF-I, Austin served as the senior U.S. military commander in charge of all U.S. and Coalition forces in Iraq. Their mission was to advise, train, assist and equip the Iraqi Security Forces. Austin oversaw the transition from Operation Iraqi Freedom and combat operations to Operation New Dawn and stability operations focused on advising, assisting, and training the ISF. He directed the drawdown of forces and the redeployment of approximately 50,000 U.S. service members. Austin, along with other members of the USF-I staff, departed Iraq on Dec. 18, 2011.

In December 2011, Austin was nominated to become Vice Chief of Staff of the United States Army. He took office on Jan. 31, 2012. As vice chief, he managed the day-to-day administration of the U.S. Army’s headquarters staff and the Army budget. Under his direction, the Army took steps to reduce the incidence of suicide in the ranks. Austin also led the Army’s initiative to increase awareness and improve treatment options for the “invisible wounds” of war, namely post-traumatic stress and mild traumatic brain injury.

On Dec. 6, 2012, the Pentagon announced that President Barack Obama had nominated Austin to lead the United States Central Command, and on March 22, 2013, he became the CENTCOM.
As commander, after ISIL seized control of Mosul in June 2014, Austin oversaw the development and execution of the military campaign plan to counter ISIL in Iraq and Syria.

Like former defense secretary James Mattis, Austin will need a congressional waiver of the National Security Act of 1947 to bypass the seven-year waiting period after leaving active-duty military, as prescribed by law in order to be appointed as secretary of defense.

Austin and his wife, Charlene, have been married for 40 years.

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