Yesterday, several media sources reported that President-elect Joe Biden is set to nominate Retired Army General Lloyd Austin to become Secretary of Defense; if confirmed, Gen. Austin would become the first Black in American history to hold this Cabinet position.
To serve as Defense Secretary, General Austin will need a waiver of the National Security Act of 1947 which requires former military officers to have been removed from their commissions for seven years prior to holding this position; Gen. Austin retired just four years ago. History buffs will note that only two former officers have received such waivers: Gen. George C. Marshall, President Harry Truman’s Secretary of Defense from 1949-51, and Gen. Jim Mattis, President Donald Trump’s Secretary of Defense from 2017-2019.
In the days ahead, the determination of whether Gen. Austin will serve in this post will be weighed among Congressional leaders in both parties that will argue whether the Pentagon should be helmed by a civilian. While the confirmation question will be fecund for future inspection here at Hobbservation Point, cognizant of this historic moment, today’s post is to push back against the narrative I have read on social media questioning whether General Austin is “qualified” to serve or was selected solely due to his race. A small and “tame” sampling:
At 48 years old, I am far past the point of allowing such “questions” to make me angry in that I learned long ago that many of those who doubt the qualifications of Black professionals have few to zero qualifications themselves. I also learned long ago that many of this ilk despise highly accomplished Black men and women because, deep down, they realize that what they had been raised to believe regarding the inferiority of Blacks does not square with the legions of Black professionals who continue to achieve in every field of endeavor in America.
While Gen. Austin surely does not need my defense of his credentials, as a lover of history and a writer that realizes that what I inscribe in these pages may be read in the future, it is important to ensure that the record is set straight with facts; I culled my facts from Austin’s biography on the American Academy of Diplomacy website:
“General Lloyd Austin was raised in Thomasville, Georgia where after finishing high school, he attended the United States Military Academy at West Point. Upon graduation in 1975, Austin was commissioned as an Infantry second lieutenant.
During his nearly 41 years of military service, he commanded units at every echelon, with duty in Germany, Panama, Iraq, Afghanistan, and the United States. He also has the extraordinary distinction of having commanded troops in combat at the 1-, 2-, 3- and 4-star levels. After his first assignment with U.S. Army Europe, General Austin was assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, N.C., where he commanded a company and served as an assistant brigade operations officer. General Austin then commanded a second company in Indianapolis, IN before earning a Master’s Degree from Auburn University and serving as a Company Tactical Officer at West Point.
He was assigned to the 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum, NY, where he served as battalion operations officer and brigade executive officer. He later commanded 2nd Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division including deployment for Operation SAFE HAVEN in Panama. He returned to the 82nd Airborne Division and Fort Bragg where he served as the division operations officer and later commanded the 3rd Brigade.
From July 2001 to June 2003, General Austin served as the Assistant Division Commander for Maneuver for the 3rd Infantry Division, helping to spearhead the invasion into Iraq in March 2003. Under his leadership, the division conducted the historic maneuver from Kuwait to Baghdad and seized the capitol city in a record 22 days. From September 2003 to August 2005, he served as the Commanding General, 10th Mountain Division including deployment and command of Combined Joint Task Force-180 in support of Operation ENDURING FREEDOM, Afghanistan. From February 2008 to August 2009, he served as the Commanding General, Multi-National Corps – Iraq (XVIIIth Airborne Corps) during the period when the surge forces were drawing down. Later, he served as the Commanding General, United States Force – Iraq, from September 2010 until December 2011, overseeing the responsible transition of all U.S. military forces and equipment out of the country by the December 2011 deadline. From February 2012 until March 2013, he was the Vice Chief of Staff of the Army.
Other significant assignments include: Chief, Joint Operations Division, J-3, Joint Staff (Pentagon); Chief of Staff, United States Central Command; and Director of the Joint Staff (Pentagon).
Since retiring from active military service on 1 May 2016, General Austin founded and is the Owner and President of Austin Strategy Group, LLC. On June 8, 2016, he was elected to the United Technologies Corporation Board of Directors, effective September 1, 2016. He joined the Board of Directors of NUCOR Steel in September of 2017 and Tenet Health Care in May of 2018,
General Austin achieved a number of notable “firsts” over the course of his career. He was the first African American general officer to command a U.S. Army Division in combat (10th Mountain Division/Combined Joint Task Force-180). He was the first African American general officer to lead a Corps in combat (XVIIIth Airborne Corps/Multi-National Corps-Iraq). He was the first African American general officer to command an entire theater of war (U.S. Forces-Iraq). He was also the first African American to serve as the Vice Chief of Staff of the Army and as Commander of U.S. Central Command.
He holds a Bachelor of Science degree from the U.S. Military Academy (USMA), a Master’s Degree in Education from Auburn University, and a Master’s Degree in Business Management from Webster University. He received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Auburn University Alumni Association in 2012 and is a member of Auburn University Board of Trustees. He was recently named a USMA 2017 Distinguished Graduate Award recipient. He is also a member of the Carnegie Corporation of New York’s Board of Trustees.”
In my best Darth Vader (James Earl Jones) voice: “Impressive…most impressive!”
Having read Gen. Austin’s bio several times, there’s no doubt in my mind that anyone “questioning” his “credentials” is simply being obtuse, a racist–or both!
Further, it remains critically important to highlight Black “firsts” in this nation because such opportunities are long overdue. The fact that Blacks had never led Army Divisions, Corps, and theater level operations into combat before Gen. Austin was not because Black general officers were not available or qualified to do so in ages past, but because systemic racism was and remains a cross to bear in America no matter how much the naysayers and modern day “Know Nothings” pretend that such is not the case.