AUBURN, Ala. (WRBL) – Wednesday afternoon President-elect Joe Biden introduced retired Army Gen. Lloyd Austin as his defense secretary nominee. This historical moment is bringing pride to the plains of Auburn University.
In 1986, Austin and his wife graduated from Auburn University, he with a Masters in Education. In 2012, Austin received AU’s Lifetime Achievement Award, and in 2017 he was appointed to Auburn University’s Board of Trustees, a role he still serves in for now.
“If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, it will be my sincere honor and privilege to return to the department and lead our great service members and citizens in accomplishing the mission of ensuring our nation’s security,” said Ret. General Austin during Wednesday’s announcement.
Ret. General Austin joined President-elect Joe Biden on stage Wednesday for the historic announcement. Back in 2016, Austin spoke with WRBL during a 2016 AU campus visit.
“To come back to a place where you went to school to and engage with the students and faculty here I think that is always very special. Auburn is a great place, a great institution and a great town to live and work in,” said Austin.
Austin was commissioned as an Infantry second lieutenant in 1975 upon graduating from the U.S. Military Academy. Through the decades, he rose among the ranks and broke down barriers. His 41 years of service most recently included him being commander of U.S. Central Command from March 2013 through March 2016. In that role, he was responsible for the 20-county Central Region that includes Iraq, Syria, Iran, Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. He was also the Combined Forces Commander in Iraq and Syria.
“Gen. Austin epitomizes the best Auburn has to offer in character, public service, and real-world expertise,” said Wayne Smith, president pro tem of the Auburn University Board of Trustees. “If he is ultimately selected and confirmed by the U.S. Senate, I’m confident he will again serve our nation with great distinction.”
Austin is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, and holds master’s degrees from Auburn University in education and Webster University in business management. Retired Gen. Austin is an esteemed leader globally, having earned five Defense Distinguished Service Medals, the Silver Star, and the Legion of Merit.
Austin has extensive operational experience, having commanded troops in combat at the one-, two-, three- and four-star levels. During his last deployment, he served as a four-star general and commander of United States Forces-Iraq from September 2010 through December 2011. He later served as the 33rd Vice Chief of Staff of the Army.
After confirmation from the U.S. Senate in 2010, Austin became the Army’s 200th four-star general and sixth African American Army four-star general. He was the first African American general officer to command a U.S. Army Division (10th Mountain Division/CJTF-180) and a Corps (18th Airborne Corps/Multi-National Corps-Iraq) in combat. He was also the first African American general officer to command an entire theater of war (United States Forces-Iraq) and to serve as Vice Chief of Staff, Army. In 2013, he became the first African American commander of U.S. Central Command.
His wife, Charlene, is also a graduate of Auburn University, and they have two sons.
Austin faces a rocky confirmation process. Traditionally a non-military civilian leads the Defense Department to ensure civilian oversight over American’s armed forces, a cornerstone principle Austin respects and addressed on Wednesday.
“Four years ago, I hung up my uniform for the last time and went from being General Lloyd Austin to Lloyd Austin. It is an important distinction and one I make with the utmost seriousness and sincerity,” said Austin.
Austin has not been retired military for seven years and will need both a House and Senate waiver. The waiver is already facing bi-partisan resistance, with President-elect Biden insisting Lloyd is the right man at the right moment.
“He is loved by the men and women in the armed forces. He is feared by our adversaries. Known and respected by our allies, and he shares my deeply held belief in the values of our alliances,” said President-elect Biden.
News 3 did reach out to another Auburn University connection, now Senator Tommy Tuberville, to see if he supports a waiver. We will let you know when we hear back.