President-elect Joe Biden on Wednesday nominated retired Army Gen. Lloyd Austin, the former U.S. Central Command commander, as secretary of defense.
If confirmed by the Senate, Austin would be the first Black man to lead the Department of Defense.
The selection also would make Austin one of the most prominent members of the incoming Biden Cabinet.
Biden, in announcing Austin’s nomination at a press conference in Wilmington, Delaware, called him “a leader of extraordinary courage, character, experience and accomplishment.”
“Someone I hold in the highest personal regard as a man of great decency and man of dignity,” he said. “In my judgment, there’s no question that he is the right person for this job at the right moment.”
Austin said despite his vast military experience, he will approach the role as a “civilian leader.”
“I look forward to surrounding myself with experienced, capable civilian appointees and career civil servants who will enable healthy civil-military relations grounded in meaningful civilian oversight,” he said.
“As secretary of defense, my priority will always, always be the men and women, military and civilian, who make up the department and their families,” Austin added.
The secretary of defense controls the country’s largest government agency, commanding troops worldwide and the Pentagon’s internal workings.
Austin’s nomination keeps with Biden’s promise to have a staff and Cabinet that reflects America’s diversity.
“Very good news for national security,” retired four-star Gen. Barry McCaffrey tweeted Tuesday. “Ret Gen. Lloyd Austin is a towering figure in Armed Forces. Enormous global experience. Joint Staff and Army staff Pentagon. Very easy to deal with. Loved by the military. Silver Star Valor. West Point. M.A. Auburn. MBA.”
The decorated 67-year-old has accumulated many awards and decorations, including five Defense Distinguished Service Medals, the country’s highest noncombat-related military honor, three Distinguished Service Medals, the Silver Star, the nation’s third-highest award for valor in combat, and two Legions of Merit.
According to a biography on carnegie.org, Austin began his career in the U.S. Army in 1975 as second lieutenant in the infantry and rose through the ranks to command troops in combat at the one-, two-, three- and four-star levels.
Austin served in numerous command and staff positions in the U.S. and around the world.
These include Operation Safe Haven in Panama with the 82nd Airborne Division; Operation Iraqi Freedom, spearheading the 2003 invasion of Iraq as the assistant division commander for the 3rd Infantry Division; and Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan as the commander of the 10th Mountain Division (Light).
In 2008, Austin returned to Iraq as the commanding general of the Multi-National Corps-Iraq during the period when the surge forces were drawing down under Operation Iraqi Freedom.
In 2009, Austin was named director of the Joint Staff at the Pentagon.
Following that assignment, Austin served another tour in Iraq as the commanding general of United States Forces-Iraq, responsible for the transition of all U.S. and Coalition military forces and equipment out of the country by the December 2011 deadline.
In 2012, Austin served as the 33rd vice chief of staff of the Army, culminating his military career as the 12th commander of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) from 2013 to 2016.
As CENTCOM commander, he was responsible for military strategy and joint operations throughout the Middle East and Central and South Asia. He was also the architect and oversaw the military campaign’s execution to defeat the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. He retired from the military on May 1, 2016, and is now the founder and president of The Austin Strategy Group.
Austin also worked with the president-elect as vice chief of staff of the Army when Biden served as vice president under Barack Obama.
Austin would require a congressional waiver for confirmation to the civilian post because he retired from active-duty service only four years ago.
Federal law requires seven years of retirement from active duty before taking on the role.
Retired Marine Gen. James Mattis received a waiver from Congress in 2017 to serve as President Donald Trump’s defense secretary.