Gen. Lloyd J. Austin

The U.S. Senate voted last Friday to confirm retired Gen. Lloyd Austin as President Joe Biden’s pick as the U.S. Secretary of Defense. 

The highly decorated military veteran will now serve as the first African American to run the Pentagon in U.S. history.  

Austin, who retired in 2016, had to be granted a waiver in order to take the role, allowing him eligibility despite a law requiring the defense secretary to be retired from active-duty for a minimum of seven years before taking on the position. The House voted in favor of the waiver Thursday afternoon, following suit of the Senate which also approved the measure, paving the way for his confirmation Friday in the Senate.

Confirmation of Austin as the defense secretary gives the Biden administration another key departmental chief in place as the Democratic National Party continues to move for a swift confirmation of congressional Democratic cabinet members following the inauguration of Biden as the 46th President of the United States on Jan. 20. 

Since the inauguration last week, the Senate has confirmed Biden’s first Cabinet nominee, Avril Haines, as the director of national intelligence followed by confirmation of Austin. 

Austin, who served on Auburn University’s Board of Trustees, was placed on a shortlist by Biden to serve as the next defense secretary back in December 2020. The news broke shortly after the Trump administration announced it would begin the process of a formal transition through the General Services Administration. 

Born in Mobile and currently residing in Great Falls, Virginia, Austin is a retired U.S. Army general with nearly 41 years of military service.

"In his more than 40 years in the United States Army, Austin met every challenge with extraordinary skill and profound personal decency. He is a true and tested soldier and leader," said President Joe Biden in a column he wrote for The Atlantic in early December. "I’ve spent countless hours with him, in the field and in the White House Situation Room. I’ve sought his advice, seen his command, and admired his calm and his character. He is the definition of a patriot."

As the commander of U.S. Central Command from March 2013 through March 2016, he was responsible for the 20-country 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.

Austin has extensive operational experience, having commanded troops in combat while serving at the ranks of  1-, 2-, 3- and 4-star General. During his last deployment, he served as a 4-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. 

Austin is also a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and holds a master's degree in education from Auburn University and a master’s degree in business management from Webster University. 

His first term on the Auburn University Board of Trustees began upon his confirmation by the Alabama Senate on February 9, 2017 and will expire on February 8, 2024.

Austin received the Lifetime Achievement Award from Auburn University and the Distinguished Graduate Award from the United States Military Academy at West Point. He is a member of the Council of Foreign Relations, and a Trustee of the Carnegie Corporation of New York. With a very decorated background, Austin has been awarded five Defense Distinguished Service Medals, the Silver Star and the Legion of Merit.

Austin resigned on Monday, effectively immediately, from the Board of Trustees, said BOT President Pro Tempore Wayne Smith in a statement to The Villager. 

"His leadership and contagious passion for Auburn will be missed, but we understand why his important new post compels him to step down from boards such as ours," said Smith. "We wish him Godspeed and great success as he leads the Department of Defense.

"The Constitution of the State of Alabama prescribes a deliberate and thorough process for filling his unexpired term. We will perform those duties carefully to find a new member of the highest caliber and ability. Once the Trustee Selection Committee meets, members will solicit nominations, review candidates and recommend a replacement to the Alabama Senate."

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