Austin sworn in as nation’s first Black Pentagon chief

Retired Gen. Lloyd Austin was sworn in as secretary of Defense on Friday, becoming the first Black head of the Pentagon in U.S. history.

“I am honored to have this chance to serve again and to do so alongside you and your families,” Austin said in a statement to the force after he was sworn in by Tom Muir, acting director of Washington Headquarters Services. 

“My wife, Charlene, and I know all too well the sacrifices you make to keep this country safe. That safety is job one, and I promise to work as hard as you do at it.”

After he was sworn in, Austin jumped into his duties with an intelligence briefing and meetings with Deputy Defense Secretary David Norquist and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley, according to a Pentagon statement. 

Austin also had plans to chair a COVID-19 briefing, attended by the Norquist, Milley, service secretaries and chiefs, combatant commanders, staff and Pentagon COVID-19 Coordinator Max Rose.

“Right now, of course, doing my job also means helping our country get control of the pandemic, which has killed more than 400,000 Americans. You have already come to the aid of our Nation’s health care professionals. You can expect that mission to continue,” Austin said in the statement.

He added that the military must help the federal government “move further and faster to eradicate the devastating effects of the coronavirus,” and “do everything we can to vaccinate and care for our workforce and to look for meaningful ways to alleviate the pressure this pandemic has exerted on you and your families.”

Austin also plans to call NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and receive operational briefings about China and the Middle East, the Pentagon said Friday.

The rest of his afternoon will consist of administrative check-in procedures.

The Senate earlier on Friday confirmed Austin in a 93-2 vote, giving Biden his second Cabinet member two days after his inauguration. Avril Haines was confirmed as director of national intelligence on Wednesday.

The only votes against Austin’s confirmation came from GOP Sens. Josh Hawley (Mo.) and Mike Lee (Utah).

“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 he was confirmed. “Let’s get to work.”

Austin had overcome the hurdle of getting Congress to approve a waiver allowing him to bypass a law barring recently retired generals from leading the Pentagon.

The 1947 law is meant to ensure civilian control of the military by requiring that Defense secretaries be out of uniform for at least seven years.

Though Austin retired from the military in 2016, lawmakers fast-tracked the waiver on Thursday. Both chambers of Congress approved it within hours of each other, citing a confluence of crises including the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Updated: 2:21 p.m.

Tags Avril Haines biden administration Defense Secretary Josh Hawley Lloyd Austin Mark Milley Max Rose Mike Lee

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