New York Daily News
Historic defense OK
First Black military chief hopes he’s not last
New defense chief Lloyd Austin said he was proud and grateful to be the first African-American civilian to be in charge of the nation’s military.
But more important to him is not being the last.
Austin was confirmed Friday as the county’s 28th secretary of defense in a near-unanimous Senate confirmation vote, giving the history-making military man what he says is a mandate to make change.
Near the top of the list for the retired four-star general is building an armed forces that is much more tolerant.
“If confirmed, I will fight hard to stamp out sexual assault, to rid our ranks of racists and extremists, and to create a climate where everyone fit and willing has the opportunity to serve this country with dignity,” Austin, 67, said at his confirmation hearing.
“The job of the Department of Defense is to keep America safe from our enemies,” Austin told the Senate Armed Services Committee. “But we can’t do that if some of those enemies lie within our own ranks.”
Austin’s remarks last week came just minutes after the Pentagon confirmed that 12 members of the National Guard had been removed from duty ahead of President Biden’s inauguration on Wednesday.
A federal vetting process revealed the dozen soldiers had ties to extremist groups like the ones behind the Jan. 6 domestic assault on the U.S. Capitol building, where lawmakers were meeting to certify Biden’s election win.
The defense secretary post isn’t the first first for Austin, a Thomasville, Ga., native and West Point graduate. Austin was the first African-American to command an infantry division in combat and the first African-American to lead the U.S. Central Command, the unit of the U.S. military responsible for operations in the Middle East.
His appointment comes more than 30 years after Colin Powell became the first African-American to become chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — a position that reports to the secretary of defense.
“It’s an honor and a privilege to serve as our country’s 28th Secretary of Defense, and I’m especially proud to be the first African-American to hold the position,: Austin tweeted after his confirmation. “Let’s get to work.”
In a video Austin posted thanking Biden and his supporters, the new defense chief also gave a nod to the military men and women who broke ground before him, including the Tuskegee Airmen and the Montford Point Marines, who paved the way for an integrated armed forces.
“It’s on their shoulders that I stand here today,” Austin said.
Austin lamented the slow progress. While the military’s rank-and-file has become more diverse, it’s leadership remains largely white and male.
“It’s hard to believe but it’s true,” Austin said. “There is kind of a sad commentary here, and that is, it shouldn’t have taken us this long to get here. There should have been someone who preceded me.”