The Senate has confirmed retired four-star US Army General Lloyd J. Austin III as the first African American secretary of defense with a 93-2 vote.
Austin arrived at the Pentagon on Friday and and was “administratively sworn in” soon afterward.
The Senate and the House of Representatives waived the requirement that a defense secretary must have been retired seven years before assuming the position. Austin assured congressional leaders that he fully believes in civilian control of the US military.
During his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Austin addressed this issue. “I was a general and a soldier, and I’m proud of that,” he said. “But today, I appear before you as a citizen, the son of a postal worker and a homemaker from Thomasville, Georgia, and I’m proud of that, too. If you confirm me, I am prepared to serve now as a civilian, fully acknowledging the importance of this distinction.”
Austin, a 1975 graduate of the US Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., retired from the Army as the commander of US Central Command in 2016.
In some of his first acts, Austin is contacting allies and partners around the world to assure them of America’s security commitments. His first call to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, is proof of the importance Austin places on allies.
Conquering COVID tops the immediate list of missions, but Austin also must configure the department to face China, which he called America’s “pacing threat” in his testimony. He also must consider the actions and strategy of a resurgent Russia. Iran remains a U.S. concern in the Middle East, and U.S. troops are still deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. North Korea is a wild card in the Indo-Pacific.
Below is the first message the secretary of defense sent to the force upon assuming office:
I am honored to have this chance to serve again and to do so alongside you and your
families. My wife, Charlene. and 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.
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.
Right now, of course, doing my job also means helping our country get control of the pandemic, which has killed more than 400,000 Americans. You have already come to the aid of our Nation’s health care professionals. You can expect that mission to continue. But we must help the Federal Government move further and faster to eradicate the devastating effects of the coronavirus. To that end, we will also do everything we can to vaccinate and care for our workforce and to look for meaningful ways to alleviate the pressure this pandemic has exerted on you and your families.
None of us succeeds at this business alone. Defending the country requires teamwork and cooperation. It requires a certain humility, a willingness to learn, and absolute respect for one another. I know you share my devotion to these qualities.
I am proud to be back on your team.