A retired Army General, Lloyd Austin, has been confirmed by the United States Senate as the Secretary of Defence, making him the first African-American pentagon chief since the position was created in 1947.
President Joe Biden, while nominating Austin for the role, had said he believed the retired general will do “an outstanding job.”
Austin was confirmed as defence secretary on Friday in a near-unanimous 93 to two vote.
Josh Hawley of Missouri and Mike Lee of Utah, both of whom are Republican senators, voted against the confirmation.
The 67-year-old Austin, who retired in 2016 after 41 years in the military, was granted a special waiver by congress to hold the post. The waiver requires a defence secretary, who has been out of active-duty service, to wait seven years before taking the job.
The lawmakers were said to have initially raised concerns about granting him an exception, because Jim Mattis, a retired marine general who served as defence secretary under ex-President Donald Trump, was also granted the same waiver.
But during his confirmation hearing before the senate armed services committee on Tuesday, Austin was said to have tried to allay the fears of the lawmakers by promising to surround himself with “experienced, capable civilian leaders” and to hire a chief of staff who “will not be a military person.”
“If confirmed, I will carry out the mission of the department of defence, always with the goal to deter war and ensure our nation’s security, and I will uphold the principle of civilian control of the military, as intended.
“I understand and respect the reservations some of you have expressed about having another recently retired general at the head of the department of defence. The safety and security of our democracy demand competent civilian control of our armed forces, the subordination of military power to the civil,” Austin said.
Jack Reed, chairman of the armed services committee, described the event as “an extraordinary, historic moment.”
“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 defence, which makes real the notion of opportunity,” Reed said.
Austin previously served as the 12th commander of the United States Command (CENTCOM) in 2013, after being nominated by former President Barack Obama.
He was also the first African-American CENTCOM commander.