Pentagon chief Austin says 'not possible' to replace Colin Powell

Pentagon chief Austin says 'not possible' to replace Colin Powell
© Greg Nash

Defense Secretary Lloyd AustinLloyd AustinOvernight Defense & National Security — US, Iran return to negotiating table Four-star general to lead Pentagon investigation into Syria airstrike that killed dozens Pentagon rejects Oklahoma's request to exempt Guard from vaccine mandate MORE reflected on the death of former Secretary of State and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Colin PowellColin PowellDefense & National Security — Biden marks Veterans Day Biden marks Veterans Day at Arlington National Cemetery Overnight Defense & National Security — Washington gathers for Colin Powell's funeral MORE on Monday, saying it is “not possible” to replace the diplomatic and military leader.

“The world lost one of the greatest leaders that we have ever witnessed,” Austin said Monday morning. “And it will be, quite frankly, it is not possible to replace a Colin Powell.”

Powell died Monday morning due to complications from COVID-19, his family announced in a statement. He was fully vaccinated against the virus and receiving treatment at the Walter Reed National Medical Center. He had also reportedly been diagnosed with multiple myeloma.

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Austin, the first-ever African American Pentagon chief, recognized the historic nature of Powell’s tenure in American politics and the barriers he broke. 

“First African American chairman of Joint Chiefs, first African American secretary of State, a man who was respected around the globe,” Austin said.

Austin said he lost a “tremendous personal friend and mentor."

“He has been my mentor for a number of years. He always made time for me. And I can always go to him with tough issues, he always had great, great counsel. We will certainly miss him. I feel as if I have a hole in my heart,” Austin said.

“Alma lost a great husband, and the family lost a tremendous father," the Pentagon chief said of Powell's wife. "My thoughts and prayers go out to the family, and we're deeply, deeply saddened to learn of this."

Powell applauded then-President-elect Joe BidenJoe BidenDearborn office of Rep. Debbie Dingell vandalized Pfizer to apply for COVID-19 booster approval for 16- and 17-year-olds: report Coronavirus variant raises fresh concerns for economy MORE for nominating Austin to serve as his Defense secretary in December, calling the pick a “superb choice.”

"General Austin has served splendidly at all combat and civilian levels in the Armed Forces,” Powell said in a statement posted to his Facebook account. “He has demonstrated his warfighting skills and his bureaucratic, diplomatic and political acumen. Being older than him, I watched him closely and served as a mentor."

Powell also spoke to the concern among some Congressional lawmakers regarding a waiver to allow Austin to serve as Pentagon chief, which was ultimately approved in a 69 to 27 vote.

He said Congress should have “no concern” in approving the waiver, highlighting Austin's civilian business experience and reputation among troops. 

Former President George W. Bush on Monday said he was “deeply saddened” by the death of Powell, who served as his first secretary of State.