Should the Senate confirm him, retired Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III would become the first African American to serve as the senior-most civilian leader of the Defense Department.
As President-Elect Joe Biden’s secretary of Defense, Austin would come to the position after a 45-year career in public service and industry. He earned his commission as a second lieutenant in 1975 upon graduation from the U.S. Military Academy, and holds graduate and MBA degrees from Auburn and Webster universities respectively, according to a biography published by the New York-based Carnegie Corporation.
In Austin’s final military assignments, he served as the Army’s 33rd vice chief of staff and then commander of U.S. Central Command, from which he retired in 2016. While at CENTCOM, Austin formulated and oversaw operations against the Islamic State in the Middle East and Asia. Military honors include five Defense Distinguished Service Medals, three Distinguished Service Medals, the Silver Star and two Legions of Merit, according to the Carnegie biography.
After retirement, Austin established The Austin Strategy Group and also served on the board of directors of Raytheon Technologies.
Two years after leaving active duty, Austin gave an interview to Army public affairs. His comments focused on the changes the service underwent while he was in uniform – including the end of the Cold War and drawdown of nuclear weapons, the ensuing proliferation of conventional arms and the shift to an all-volunteer force.
“The [1990-’91 Gulf War] was truly the watershed event in how we understood the post-Cold War operational environment,” Lloyd said. “The events of 9/11  brought an end to the notion of a water’s edge dividing matters of the foreign and the domestic and how we defined military operations other than war in its newest form of ‘gray zone’ warfare.”
The key element to success in each of the scenarios was and continues to be the American soldier, Lloyd said.
The present climate is one of “compound threats,” Austin said, which “feed new compound wars,” citing Syria and Iraq as prime examples. To ultimately prevail would require a change in traditional approaches, Austin said.
“In both war and peacetime operations, the truly decisive action is always in the finishing,” Austin said. “That’s not something that’s limited only to operations, especially in the contemporary operational environments.”
Victory, Austin said, would hinge upon strategic patience, a clear strategy, the power to quickly place the enemy in “multiple dilemmas simultaneously” and sustain the pressure, and a revolutionary approach to technology that includes human talent – to wit, the individual soldier.
Austin’s view of the future indicated an interest in fostering combined operations that involve each of the armed services.
“The services should avoid three traditional pitfalls revealed during times of geostrategic ambiguity and change, defense budget stringency, and force reductions,” Austin said.
“First, avoid becoming infatuated with, and overcommitted to, the latest trends at the expense of hedging against the recurring challenges that have manifested throughout strategic history. Second, avoid being tempted to rename or oversell the creation of new war concepts, especially in support of single-service interests that distract from the timeless enduring nature of conflict,” Austin said. “And third, avoid being guilty of overplaying the ‘hollow force’ card.
“Readiness,” Austin said, “needs to be seen, understood, appreciated, and approached in nothing less than terms of comprehensive joint and combined readiness.”