Retired four-star Army General Lloyd Austin was confirmed as Secretary of Defense by the US Senate on Friday (January 22).
With his confirmation, Austin becomes the first Black secretary of defense in the nation’s history.
The Senate voted 93-2 to confirm Austin, who also had to get a waiver from the House since he didn’t technically meet the requirement to be out of service for at least seven years before being confirmed.
The National Security Act of 1947 established the rule so that civilian control over the military remains in place, but it left room for a waiver if members of Congress in the House and Senate agree.
“The safety and security of our democracy demands competent civilian control of our armed forces. The subordination of military power to the civil,” Austin said during his confirmation hearing on Tuesday (January 19), held in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Austin addressed concerns about Congress utilizing the waiver provision twice in the last four years, by vowing to put people around him who are “experienced, capable civil leaders.” He also said he would get a chief of staff who “will not be a military person.”
Austin takes charge of the Pentagon with a military career spanning 40 years. He previously served as the head of the US Central Command, leading operations in Yemen, Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan.
During his Senate hearing, Austin said China is the nation’s “most significant challenge going forward.” He characterized Iran as a “destabilizing force” in the region.
Austin will also be taking on the challenge of extremism within the military, as the investigation into the Capitol attack on January 6 unfolds.
Before the Inauguration, several members of the National Guard were dismissed from the post for their connections to far right militia groups. NPR reports that almost 20% of the people charged in the attack so far have either previously served or currently serve in the military.
Austin said this is a “critical” issue that he says enhanced screening protocols will help quell.
Austin told the committee that he personally dealt with extremists while serving in the 82nd Airborne Division in North Carolina years ago.
“We woke up one day and discovered that we had extremist elements in our ranks and they did bad things,” Austin said, without going into detail. “The signs for that activity were there all along. We just didn’t know what to look for or what to pay attention to.”
“But,” he added, “we learned from that.”
Photo: Getty Images