Mobile native and Auburn University graduate Lloyd J. Austin, a retired four-star general, is poised to be the next United States Secretary of Defense.
President-elect Joe Biden announced on Tuesday his intentions to nominate Austin to the post. Austin would become the first Black person to lead the Pentagon if he is confirmed by the U.S. Senate.
“In his more than 40 years in the United States Army, Austin met every challenge with extraordinary skill and profound personal decency,” Biden wrote of Austin in The Atlantic. “He is a true and tested soldier and leader. 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.”
Austin’s confirmation process could be somewhat rocky due to the long-held belief by many that the Defense Department leadership should be civilian. Congress established civilian DOD leadership when it created the post in the 1940s, and only two former secretaries of defense were career military officers — the most recent being James Mattis.
Like Mattis, Austin will require a congressional waiver to serve in the post. And after Mattis’ stint in the position, which was widely regarded as problematic for the highly respected general, Austin could face increased scrutiny.
However, Austin’s military service and the broad respect he has around Washington will make him hard to turn down. A 40-plus-year service member, Austin led troops in Iraq and in the campaign against the Islamic State and ended his military career in 2016 as the commander of U.S. Central Command. He is highly decorated, having earned five Defense Distinguished Service Medals; three Distinguished Service Medals; the Silver Star, the third-highest award for valor in combat.
Austin is a 1975 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and earned an MA degree in education from Auburn University. After retiring in 2016, Austin opened a consulting firm, Austin Strategy Group.