WASHINGTON, D.C. — Thomasville native Lloyd Austin is now the secretary of defense.
The U.S. Senate confirmed his appointment Friday morning in a 93-2 vote.
“Thomasville should be celebrating,” said Jack Hadley, an Air Force veteran and the founder of the Jack Hadley Black History Museum. “It is a great blessing. I’ve been praying to God.”
Austin, who retired in 2016, was commander of Central Command, which has the area of responsibility for the Middle East. He also served as vice chief of staff of the Army, the No. 2 post.
A 1971 graduate of Thomasville High School, Austin graduated from the U.S. Military Academy. He began his career as a rifle platoon leader.
He saw combat as the assistant division commander for maneuver with the 3rd Infantry Division, based three hours east of Thomasville at the sprawling Fort Stewart post, during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. He commanded the 10th Mountain Division in Afghanistan and later led the XVIII Airborne Corps. He also commanded U.S. Forces-Iraq.
“The nominee is clearly qualified,” Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell said, calling the retired four-star general “a clear patriot with an outstanding career.”
Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI), a West Point alum who served in the 82nd Airborne Division, as did Austin, also praised Gen. Austin.
“Gen. Austin is an exceptionally qualified leader,” he said. “His character and integrity are unquestioned and possesses the skill to lead the Pentagon. The Department of Defense is adrift and in need of steadfast leadership. Gen. Austin is an outstanding choice for secretary of defense.”
The House voted Thursday to grant Austin the waiver to serve as defense secretary less than seven years after retiring.
U.S. Rep. Austin Scott (R-Tifton) voted in favor of granting Gen. Austin the waiver.
“I met Gen. Austin several years ago while visiting our warfighters in Iraq,” Scott said. “I believe he would lead the Department of Defense and all our warfighters with the same poise and dedication he exercised in his four decades in the U.S. Army. He’s a son of Thomasville, and we should all be extremely proud to see him assume the critically important role of Secretary of Defense. “
Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), the chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he supported Gen. Austin’s nomination and the waiver needed for Austin to serve as defense secretary.
“He’s done everything right,” Sen. Inhofe said. “We’re in the most threatened time we’ve ever been in. I can’t think of a better person to take the helm than Gen. Austin to provide the leadership.”
Austin also is the first Black soldier to command a division, a corps and a field army in combat.
“He sets a good example, especially for Black kids,” Hadley said. “You can make it — you can get there.”
Jim Hughes coached Austin at Thomasville High and the two still keep in touch.
When Austin was being honored as one of Thomasville High’s outstanding alumni, he spoke of his coaches and teachers and of his roots here, Hughes recalled.
“He was a great student and a great athlete and a great presence in the locker room, the classroom and the halls,” Hughes said. “His classmates and teammates would tell you the same thing.”
Austin’s senior year was the first year the schools were fully integrated.
“It was potentially a time that could have been problematic,” Hughes said. “But it wasn’t because of the maturity, poise and leadership of folks like Lloyd Austin.”
Hughes introduced Austin when the THS alum was inducted into the Thomas County Sports Hall of Fame. When Austin was honored at the annual Rose Show and Festival, he even ran in the 10K race, Hughes pointed out.
“He remembers his roots,” Hughes said.
Hughes said the speed at which Austin was granted the waiver from both the House and Senate and how swiftly and overwhelmingly senators confirmed his nomination speaks to the kind of person he is.
“I think he’ll do a great job,” Hughes said.