Retired four-star Army general Lloyd Austin became the first African American defense secretary on Friday, shattering a racial barrier for the United States armed forces and underscoring President Biden’s commitment to diversity within his Cabinet.
The Senate confirmed Austin, 67, as the president’s nominee in a 93-to-2 vote, giving the incoming Pentagon boss a near-unanimous bipartisan congressional mandate, as he sets about overseeing the 2.9 million service members and civilians across the world who fall under the umbrella of the U.S. Department of Defense.
For Austin to be confirmed, the House and Senate first had to pass a waiver exempting him from a law that requires secretaries of defense to be out of uniform for seven years before occupying the top civilian post at the Pentagon. Austin retired in 2016; Congress granted him the waiver on Thursday.
“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 said in a statement on Twitter after his confirmation. “Let’s get to work.”