Crusader Staff Report
Retired Army Four-Star General Lloyd Austin on Monday, January 25, was sworn in as the nation’s first Black Secretary of Defense.
He was sworn in by America’s first Black vice president Kamala Harris at the White House, days after he started the job and has already announced multiple changes to the Department of Defense.
On Twitter, Austin said, “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. Let’s get to work.”
In a statement, Harris tweeted, “Secretary Austin’s integrity, experience, and intimate knowledge of the issues facing our military make him the right leader for this moment.”
Austin was already sworn in administratively on January 22 at the Pentagon and had served in the role for about three days before the White House ceremony.
The swearing-in ceremony at the White House came shortly after Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark A. Milley attended the signing of the Executive Order that ends the Pentagon’s ban on transgender individuals serving in the military.
In one of his first steps as Defense Secretary, Austin ordered the services and combatant commands to provide a summary of sexual assault and sexual harassment prevention and accountability measures taken within the past year by February 5. In a memo, Austin said he wants to know more about how data would support addressing sexual misconduct “within a broader violence prevention framework.” He said there will be a meeting of senior leaders “in the coming days” to address the problem.
The order comes alongside a similar one from President Joe Biden, which called for a 90-day commission to pursue ways to fix the problem of sexual assault in the military—a move that the DOD will “aggressively support,” Austin wrote.
“I look forward to working with you as we defend the United States,” Austin wrote to DOD leaders in the memo. “But, as I said before the Senate Armed Services Committee, we cannot accomplish that mission if we also have to battle enemies within the ranks. I’m speaking here about the scourge of sexual assault.”
Austin, who was nominated for the position by President Joe Biden, is arguably the most prominent Black official in Biden’s Cabinet. Austin, 67, troubled some Democrats because his retirement from the military happened less than seven years ago, the minimum period of time a civilian is required to wait to lead the Department of Defense. Austin retired in 2016.
Unlike the president’s other Cabinet nominees, Austin’s road to Senate confirmation was a two-step process. He needed a waiver approved from the House and Senate because he had not been a civilian out of the military for at least seven years as required by law.
The House voted 326-78 to approve the waiver and the Senate voted 69-27. Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth voted against the waiver but later voted to confirm Austin. Senator Dick Durbin voted yes on both the waiver and the confirmation. In Indiana, Senator Mike Braun voted yes and Todd Braun voted no.
In the final step toward confirmation, the Senate voted in favor of Austin by 93-2. Republican senators Josh Hawley of Missouri and Mike Lee of Utah were the only members to vote no.
Born in Mobile, Alabama, on August 8, 1953, Austin grew up in Thomasville, Georgia, and graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1975. He then earned a master’s degree in counselor education from Auburn University in 1986 and an MBA from Webster University.
After graduating from West Point, Austin was commissioned as second lieutenant and received his first assignment to the 3rd Infantry Division (Mechanized) in Germany. It would be the first of many assignments that would take him across the world and become part of Austin’s decorated military career.
The highlight of Austin’s career came in 2010, where under the Obama Administration, he served as the Commanding General of United States Forces in Iraq – Iraq (USF-I). Austin was the senior military commander in charge of all U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq. Austin’s troops helped stabilize the Iraqi Security Forces, which served to protect the country’s transition to a free, democratic government after the U.S. captured dictator Saddam Hussein in 2006, before he was executed for crimes against his people.