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Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III recovering after medical episode

February 2, 2021 Thomasville - James "Jack" Hadley with exhibits at the Jack Hadley Black History Museum in Thomasville on Tuesday, February 2, 2021. (Hyosub Shin /

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III, who hails from South Georgia, is in the news amid revelations that the Pentagon did not inform the White House for three days this month about his hospitalization following complications from an elective procedure.

The secrecy surrounding his hospitalization is drawing sharp criticism from federal lawmakers and the news media.

“The Secretary of Defense is the key link in the chain of command between the president and the uniformed military, including the nuclear chain of command, when the weightiest of decisions must be made in minutes,” said U.S. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, a Republican member of the U.S. Senate’s Armed Services Committee. “If this report is true, there must be consequences for this shocking breakdown.”

Austin released a statement Saturday, saying he understood “the media concerns about transparency and I recognize I could have done a better job ensuring the public was appropriately informed. I commit to doing better.”

“But this is important to say: this was my medical procedure, and I take full responsibility for my decisions about disclosure,” he said.

Austin remained at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center Sunday, though he had spoken to President Joe Biden over the weekend and was “recovering well and in good spirits,” Pentagon Press Secretary Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder said.

“Since resuming his duties on Friday evening, the secretary has received operational updates and has provided necessary guidance to his team,” Ryder said. “He has full access to required secure communications capabilities and continues to monitor DoD’s day-to-day operations worldwide.”

The White House said Monday it would review the matter.

Here are five things to know about Austin:

1. Austin became the first Black man to lead the Pentagon after the U.S. Senate confirmed him on a 93-2 vote in January of 2021.

“I am honored and humbled,” Austin told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in an exclusive interview after his confirmation, adding he would keep his focus on the men and women he leads. “As I reflect on the challenges and the responsibilities of this office, it is clearly apparent to me that it is not about Lloyd Austin. This is about them: The men and women who wear the uniform, the DoD civilians who support them, the families that make sacrifices every day, the veterans that have sacrificed significantly.”

2. The son of a postal worker and a homemaker, Austin was born in Mobile, Alabama. But his family moved to Thomasville when he was in elementary school. Austin graduated from Thomasville High School in 1971. In February of 2021, Thomasville’s City Council presented a proclamation in honor of Austin’s confirmation as defense secretary.

“General Austin’s dynamic leadership and accomplishments have been and continue to be a source of pride for the citizens of Thomasville,” Thomasville Mayor Greg Hobbs said. “The council takes immense pleasure in presenting General Austin with this proclamation and recognizing him as our very own local hero.”

3. Austin shares the same South Georgia hometown as Henry Flipper, who became the first Black man to graduate from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York. Born a slave in Thomasville in 1856, Flipper endured isolation and hostility among white cadets at the military academy. After he graduated, he served with the U.S. military on the American frontier, worked as a surveyor and engineer and became an author and special assistant to the U.S. interior secretary. Austin admires Flipper’s resilience.

“His story is one of courage, of perseverance and of commitment and of values,” Austin said. “I have always been proud to say I am from the same town as Henry Flipper.”

4. Austin served for 41 years in the U.S. Army, rising from second lieutenant to four-star general. He received the Silver Star for his leadership of the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division during the invasion of Iraq in 2003. He retired in 2016 as the chief of U.S. Central Command, a role from which he oversaw U.S. military operations across the Middle East. Austin credited his parents for believing in him and his siblings and for encouraging them to work hard.

“They told us that we could always be anything that we wanted to be and that we had the talent to compete in almost anything,” said Austin, who is married with two stepsons. “I guess the story here is, parents, be careful about what you tell your kids. They will actually wind up believing you. I certainly believed my mother and my father.”

5. Austin has encouraged other Black military officers in Georgia, including Joe Wells of Acworth, who became the first Black brigadier general in the Georgia National Guard.

“He was my beacon,” said Wells, who retired as a two-star general from the Guard. Wells added about Austin’s confirmation as defense secretary: “He is the right person at the right time.”


© 2024 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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