|28th United States Secretary of Defense|
|Assumed office |
January 22, 2021
|Preceded by||Mark Esper|
|12th Commander of United States Central Command|
March 22, 2013 – March 30, 2016
|Preceded by||Jim Mattis|
|Succeeded by||Joseph Votel|
|33rd Vice Chief of Staff of the United States Army|
January 31, 2012 – March 8, 2013
|Preceded by||Peter W. Chiarelli|
|Succeeded by||John F. Campbell|
|40th Director of the Joint Staff|
August 2009 – June 30, 2010
|Preceded by||Stanley A. McChrystal|
|Succeeded by||William E. Gortney|
Lloyd James Austin III
August 8, 1953
Mobile, Alabama, U.S.
|Spouse(s)||Charlene Banner (m. 1980)|
|Education||United States Military Academy (BS)|
Auburn University (MA)
Webster University (MBA)
|Branch/service||United States Army|
|Years of service||1975–2016|
|Battles/wars||War in Afghanistan|
Operation Inherent Resolve
Lloyd James Austin III (born August 8, 1953) is an American retired United States Army four-star general serving as the 28th United States secretary of defense since January 22, 2021. He is the first African American to serve as the United States secretary of defense. Austin previously served as the 12th commander of United States Central Command (CENTCOM) from 2013 to 2016.
Austin was the 33rd vice chief of staff of the Army from January 2012 to March 2013, and the last commanding general of United States Forces – Iraq Operation New Dawn, which ended in December 2011. In 2013, Austin was appointed as the first black commander of CENTCOM by President Barack Obama. He retired from the armed services in 2016 and joined the boards of Raytheon Technologies, Nucor, Tenet Healthcare, and Auburn University. On December 7, 2020, he was nominated for defense secretary by then-President-elect Joe Biden. He was confirmed by the United States Senate on January 22, 2021, by a vote of 93–2.
Austin was born on August 8, 1953, in Mobile, Alabama; he was raised in Thomasville, Georgia. He graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point with a Bachelor of Science degree in 1975, where he was commander of G-1 (G Company, 1st Regiment). He later earned a Master of Arts degree in counselor education from Auburn University's College of Education in 1986, and a Master of Business Administration in business management from Webster University in 1989. He is a graduate of the Infantry Officer Basic and Advanced courses, the Army Command and General Staff College, and the Army War College.
Following this assignment and attendance at the Infantry Officer Advanced Course, he was assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, 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 Army Indianapolis District Recruiting Command, and where he later commanded a company in the Army Recruiting Battalion. Upon conclusion of this assignment, he attended Auburn University, where he completed studies for a master's degree in education. He was then assigned to the Military Academy at West Point, New York, where he served as a company tactical officer for E-1.
After his selection and subsequent completion of the Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, he was assigned to the 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry), Fort Drum, New York, 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, New York.
In 1993, Austin returned to the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina where he commanded the 2d Battalion (Airborne), 505th Infantry. He later served as the G-3 for the 82nd Airborne Division. Following graduation from the Army War College, he commanded the 3rd Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
Shortly after brigade command, he served as Chief, Joint Operations Division, J-3, on the Joint Staff at The Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia. His next assignment was as Assistant Division Commander for Maneuver (ADC-M), 3rd Infantry Division (Mechanized), Fort Stewart, Georgia. As the ADC-M, he helped lead the division's invasion of Iraq in March 2003. Austin was awarded a Silver Star for his actions as commander during the invasion.
Austin served from September 2003 until August 2005 as the commanding general of the 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry), 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, Florida, from September 2005 until October 2006.
On December 8, 2006, Austin was promoted to lieutenant general, and assumed command of the XVIII Airborne Corps, Fort Bragg, North Carolina. 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.
Austin handed over command of XVIII Corps to become Director of the Joint Staff in August 2009. This promotion came at the direction of Admiral Michael Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the time. While Director, Austin was told by Mullen to increase the diversity of the Joint Staff. Austin credited the appointment as having jumpstarted his later career, saying: "People who might not have known Lloyd Austin began to know him."
On September 1, 2010, Austin became Commanding General (CG) of United States Forces – Iraq (USF-I) at a ceremony at Al-Faw Palace in Baghdad. He assumed the role from General Ray Odierno. As CG, USF-I, Austin was the senior military commander in charge of all US and remaining coalition forces in Iraq. Their mission was to advise, train, assist, and equip the Iraqi Armed Forces and the security agencies part of the Ministry of the Interior. As commander, Austin requested an additional troop presence in Iraq from 14,000 to 18,000.
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 was extensively involved in the internal U.S. discussions and then negotiations with the Iraqi Government leading up to the signing of the Strategic Partnership Agreement. Opposing total U.S. withdrawal, Austin preferred that the U.S. maintain about 10,000 troops in Iraq after 2011 and he approved staff planning for up to 20,000 remaining troops. He directed the drawdown of forces and the redeployment of approximately 50,000 service members. The U.S. command in Iraq formally cased its colors on December 15, 2011, at a reduced-sized BIAP complex, and Austin's speech there cited his division's seizure of the airport over eight years beforehand. Austin, along with other members of the USF-I staff, departed Iraq on December 18, 2011.
In December 2011, Austin was nominated to become Vice Chief of Staff of the United States Army (VCSA). He took office on January 31, 2012. As VCSA, he managed the day-to-day administration of the Army's budget and headquarters staff. Under his direction, the Army took steps to reduce the incidence of suicide in the ranks. He also supervised a review of the psychiatric treatment of personnel assessed for disability by the Army.
Austin became the commander of CENTCOM on March 22, 2013, after being nominated by President Obama in late 2012. Austin was preceded as CENTCOM Commander by General James Mattis, whom Austin would later succeed as Secretary of Defense. In this capacity, General Austin oversaw all United States troops deployed and major United States Military operations around the area of Middle-East and Central Asia and some parts of South Asia. The area of command consisted of 20 countries including Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Egypt and Lebanon.
His approach as CENTCOM commander has been described as that of an "invisible general", due to his reluctance to speak publicly about military matters.
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. He had earlier described ISIL as a "flash in the pan". Obama would later tell The New Yorker that ISIL was a "jayvee" team. As of October 2014, Austin argued that the U.S. military's primary focus in operations against ISIL should be Iraq, as opposed to Syria. In 2015, Austin conceded in a Senate Committee on Armed Services hearing that a CENTCOM-developed U.S. program intended to train Syrians to combat ISIL had not been successful. At the hearing, he faced particularly pointed questioning from Senator John McCain over the direction of military engagement in Syria.
Austin's retirement ceremony took place at Joint Base Myer–Henderson Hall on April 5, 2016. During his departure and retirement ceremony, General Austin said that he was extremely proud of the achievements of the coalition's forces which always goes back to the troops. General Austin said "I'm very proud to have had the opportunity to lead troops in combat, I have seen our young leaders do amazing things in really tough and dangerous situations."
Immediately after retiring as CENTCOM Commander, Austin joined the board of Raytheon Technologies, a military contractor, in April 2016. As of October 2020[update], his Raytheon stock holdings were worth roughly $500,000 and his compensation, including stock, totaled $1.4 million. On September 18, 2017, he was appointed to Nucor's board of directors. On May 29, 2018, Austin was appointed as an independent director on the board of Tenet Healthcare. He also operates a consulting firm and has been a partner at Pine Island Capital, an investment company with which Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Michèle Flournoy are affiliated.
On December 7, 2020, it was reported that President Joe Biden would nominate Austin as Secretary of Defense. Biden became acquainted with Austin while Austin was CENTCOM commander in the Obama administration, and reportedly grew to trust Austin after receiving Austin's briefings. Like former defense secretary James Mattis, Austin required 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 10 U.S.C. § 113(a), in order to be appointed as Secretary of Defense. Austin's nomination, and the attendant requirement for a waiver, met with some concern in Congress regarding its implications for civil–military relations. Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and former Secretary of State Colin Powell, among others, issued statements supporting Austin's nomination. Democratic Representative Seth Moulton opposed it.
The Senate Armed Services Committee held a confirmation hearing for Austin on January 19, 2021. On January 21, Congress granted Austin a waiver of the seven-year requirement by a 326–78 vote in the House and a 69–27 vote in the Senate. He was confirmed by the Senate in a 93–2 vote on January 22, 2021. Republican Senators Josh Hawley and Mike Lee were the only NO votes. Upon his confirmation and swearing-in later that day, Austin became the first black secretary of defense. Austin took office on January 22, 2021, after being sworn in by a Defense Department official, and was sworn in ceremonially by Vice President Kamala Harris on January 25, 2021.
Several days after assuming office as Secretary of Defense, Austin visited the National Guard deployed to Washington D.C.. Austin praised the Guard for protecting the Capitol in the days after the 2021 attack. During a press conference, he confirmed that the National Guard was expected to leave the U.S. Capitol within weeks and that there would be no further requests from federal authorities or lawmakers to keep the National Guard's troops in the Capitol complex following their March departure. Austin would subsequently order the troops stay through May.
Part of Austin's primary agenda as Secretary of Defense was the Department of Defense's plan, in coordination with Anthony Fauci, the chief medical advisor to the president, to confront the COVID-19 pandemic within the department. Austin's first step was to urge service members to get vaccinated, especially after the revelation that almost one-third of active-duty service members had turned down the opportunity to get administered the vaccine. In order to tout the safety of the coronavirus vaccine, Austin took the vaccine himself and also emphasized that taking the coronavirus vaccine will prevent disease among the troops, particularly those who were deployed overseas. On February 24, 2021, Austin visited U.S. Northern Command, Los Angeles, which is coordinating an immunization effort in the area in cooperation with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, to further investigate the fight against COVID-19.
Among his early political acts as Secretary of Defense, Austin removed former president Trump's appointees from the Pentagon advisory boards. As part of a review, he ordered their resignations, most notably former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski. Many of those removed were last minute political appointees after the 2020 election. On February 19, 2021, Austin directed his staff to gather more information about a viral TikTok video from a female Marine regarding a sexual misconduct case.
Shaken by concerns of possible right-wing extremism among the troops, Austin on February 5 announced that every unit of the United States military; Active, Reserve, and Guard would be required to stand down within the next 60 days in order to conduct "sensitivity" training. The training would last at least one day and was focused around discussions including the importance of the oath of office; a description of impermissible behaviors; and procedures for reporting suspected, or actual, extremist behaviors.
On February 19, 2021, Austin spoke to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, saying that "We discussed the continued commitment to the 70-year US-Saudi security partnership, and I'm looking forward to working together to achieve regional security and stability." Austin expressed support for Saudi Arabia in the Iran–Saudi Arabia proxy conflict.
On February 25, 2021, under Biden's direction, Austin coordinated military defensive airstrikes against an Iranian-backed militia in Syria. Austin had previously recommended such airstrikes as a response to Iranian attacks on Americans in Iraq earlier in the month. It was also believed that the militia is responsible for killing a civilian contractor and injuring one American soldier as well as other troops in a missile attack on February 15, 2021.
On February 25, 2021, Austin visited the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz. During his visit, he emphasized the need for American warships throughout the globe in order to deter security threats, mostly from China within the Indo-Pacific region and Iran within the Middle-East region.
In March 2021, Austin and former Pine Island Capital partner and now-Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited several Asian countries including Japan and South Korea. The trip reflected the Biden administration's concerns about China's growing influence within the Indo-Pacific region, especially their military buildup during the pandemic, as well North Korea's nuclear threat and the recent coup d'état in Myanmar. The trip was also part of the Biden administration's "America is back" diplomatic theme, and Austin pledged the U.S.'s commitment to reaffirm ties with its allies and to maintain a robust military presence in the Indo-Pacific region. Austin added that denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula remains the Biden administration's top priority, and that the alliances with South Korea and Japan are among the most important tools the United States has in that regard.
Austin also made a three-day visit to India, where he met with his Indian counterpart Rajnath Singh, and other senior government officials. India drew closer to the United States following its tensions with China on their disputed Sino-Indian border. Austin urged India to cancel the planned purchase of Russia's S-400 air defence system.
Austin stated that "China is our pacing threat. We still maintain the edge and we’re going to increase the edge going forward."
Austin expressed doubt that the Department of Defense would meet its May 1 deadline for the 2021 withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. The Biden Administration announced on April 14, 2021 that a new deadline had been set for September 11, 2021. On March 21, 2021, he met President Ashraf Ghani in Kabul. Soon after the withdrawal of U.S. troops started, the Taliban launched an offensive against the Afghan government, quickly advancing in front of a collapsing Afghan Armed Forces. On July 24, 2021, Austin said: "In terms of whether or not [Afghanistan's military] will stop the Taliban, I think the first thing to do is to make sure that they can slow the momentum." On August 15, 2021, the Afghan government capitulated to Taliban forces. Shortly after attack on Hamid Karzai International Airport on August 26, 2021, which left more than 183 people dead, including 13 US service members and injuring another 150, as many as 90 retired Generals and Admirals have called on Lloyd and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley to step down from their respective positions, accusing them of “negligence” in connection with the "disastrous" US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Austin was raised by a devout Catholic mother. He has been described as an "intensely private" man who loathed talking to the news media when he was in Iraq and has a habit of "referring to himself in the third person".
Austin and his wife, Charlene Denise Banner Austin, have been married for over forty years. Charlene worked as a non-profit administrator and served the board of the Military Family Research Institute at Purdue University. He has two stepsons.
[Austin] subsequently oversaw the withdrawal of US troops in 2011, a decision which he disagreed with.
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