Story at a glance

  • Austin’s confirmation followed back-to-back votes in the House and Senate Thursday that granted him a waiver to hold the position, as federal law requires individuals to wait seven years after retiring from active-duty service before holding the role of defense secretary.
  • Austin, a 1975 graduate of West Point, served more than 40 years in the Army and has achieved a number of notable “firsts” throughout his career.
  • He was the first African American general to command a theater of war in Iraq, first to serve as the commander of the U.S. Central Command and first to hold the title of vice chief of staff of the U.S. Army.

The Senate on Friday voted to confirm retired four-star Army general Lloyd Austin as the next Pentagon chief, making him the first Black secretary of defense in U.S. history. 

The Senate approved President Biden’s pick for defense secretary in a 93-2 vote, with GOP Sens. Josh Hawley (Mo.) and Mike Lee (Utah) voting against his confirmation. 


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Austin’s confirmation followed back-to-back votes in the House and Senate Thursday that granted him a waiver to hold the position, as federal law requires individuals to wait seven years after retiring from active-duty service before holding the role of defense secretary. Austin retired from the Army in 2016 and needed a special congressional waiver to bypass the rule. 

He’s the third Pentagon chief to serve after receiving such a waiver, according to NPR. Former President Trump’s first defense secretary, James Mattis, also received the same waiver from Congress. 

During his confirmation hearing Tuesday before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Austin addressed lawmakers who voiced concerns over allowing the recently retired general to hold the post.

“I understand and respect the reservations some of you have expressed about having another recently retired general at the head of the Department of Defense,” he said Tuesday. “The safety and security of our democracy demands competent civilian control of our armed forces, the subordination of military power to the civil.” 

Austin, a 1975 graduate of West Point, served more than 40 years in the Army and has achieved a number of notable “firsts” throughout his career. 

He was the first African American general to command a theater of war in Iraq, first to serve as the commander of the U.S. Central Command and first to hold the title of vice chief of staff of the U.S. Army. 

“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,” he said Friday.


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Published on Jan 22, 2021