Lloyd Austin, who led US troops into Baghdad in 2003 and headed the US Central Command, has been elected by President-elect Joe Biden as the first African-American Secretary of Defense, US media reported Monday.
A veteran of conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, the retired four-star army, 67, beat out the favorite for the job, former Deputy Defense Minister Michele Flournoy, in the middle of the press on Biden to nominate more minorities for positions in his cabinet.
CNN, Politico and the New York Times quoted named sources as familiar with the decision, after Biden said earlier on Monday that he had made his choice and would announce it on Friday. Austin would require confirmation from the Senate to take office.
He spent four decades in the Army, graduating from the West Point Military Academy and pursuing a career with a wide range of assignments, from leading platoons to running logistics teams and overseeing recruitment to senior Pentagon jobs.
In March 2003, he was assistant division commander of the Third Infantry Division as it marched from Kuwait to Baghdad during the US invasion of Iraq.
From the end of 2003 to 2005, he was in Afghanistan under the leadership of the Joint Working Group 180, the main US-led operation that sought to stabilize the security situation in the country.
In 2010, he became commander of US forces in Iraq and two years later became commander of the Central Command responsible for all Pentagon operations in the Middle East and Afghanistan.
Get African Americans in senior jobs
Austin retired from the military in 2016 and joined the board of Raytheon Technologies, one of the Pentagon’s largest entrepreneurs.
He would require special approval from the Senate due to federal law requiring military officers to wait seven years after retirement before serving as Pentagon chief.
The exception has happened twice – most recently for General Jim Mattis, the first Secretary of Defense in President Donald Trump’s administration.
But senators reluctantly agreed, amid concerns over Trump’s view of the military, and several said at the time that they would not do so again.
“He should not be considered for the same reason as Sec. Mattis should not have been,” Congressman Justin Amash said in a tweet.
“The law prohibits recently retired members of the armed forces from serving in this civilian capacity. Biden would be the second president in a row to violate this norm.”
Austin would take responsibility for the 1.2 million active service members, of which about 16 percent are black.
But blacks earn disproportionately in the lower ranks and few have achieved high command positions.
The issue became clearer in the past year as African American military and women expressed support for the national Black Lives Matter movement against police racism and abuse.
Former Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said he held many listening sessions to help white soldiers understand how their black colleagues felt.