The former Army general Lloyd Austin made history when he was confirmed by the US Senate as America’s first Black defense secretary.
The development came a day after Congress handed over Austin a special waiver to hold the post, which is required for any defence secretary who has been out of active-duty military service for less than seven years. The Senate vote was 93 to 2.
The 67-year-old is the only African-American to have led US Central Command, the military’s marquee combat command, with responsibility for Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Syria.
He retired in 2016 after 41 years in the military and is widely respected across the Army. “It’s an extraordinary, historic moment,” Senator Jack Reed, Democrat of Rhode Island and the chairman of the Armed Services Committee told The New YorkTimes.
“A significant portion of our armed forces today are African-Americans or Latinos, and now they can see themselves at the very top of the Department of Defense, which makes real the notion of opportunity.”
After being sworn in, Austin received his first intelligence briefing as Pentagon chief. He later chaired a meeting on the coronavirus pandemic with top Defense Department leaders, many joining virtually, the Pentagon said.
The pandemic — and its death toll of more than 400,000 Americans — was the theme of Austin’s first message to members of the armed forces. He noted the military’s support to America’s health care professionals, and said, “You can expect that mission to continue.”
“But we must help the federal government move further and faster to eradicate the devastating effects of the coronavirus,” Austin said, without detailing additional assistance.—AP