Lloyd James Austin III

Opening Statement to the Senate Armed Services Committee During the SecDef Confirmation Hearings

delivered 19 January 2021

Audio AR-XE mp3 of Address


[AUTHENTICITY CERTIFIED: Text version below transcribed directly from audio]

Well, thank you, Mr. Chairman and Ranking Member Reed, Members of this Committee:

I'm grateful for your time this afternoon, especially during these momentous days. It was apparent to me and to all Americans two weeks ago how seriously you take your duties to the Constitution,1 and I thank you for that commitment.

I know that you share my gratitude for the commitment of the men and women of the Department of -- of Defense as well, who share your devotion to that founding document, our Constitution. Many of them are serving overseas. Some of them are serving just outside this room. And all of them are keeping us safe. We owe much to their selflessness and to that of their families.

I want to thank Senator Sullivan and Secretary Panetta for their kind words of introduction. I am -- I am truly grateful. And of course, I want to thank my wonderful wife, Charlene, who, like today, has stood by my side for more than 40 years -- guiding me, supporting me, and making me a better man.

I'm also very grateful to President-Elect Biden for asking me to serve my country again. I value the strength of my relationship with him, and I am humbled by the trust and confidence that he has placed in me. And I hope this hearing will earn me your trust.

Let me say at the outset that I understand and respect the reservations that some of you have expressed about having another recently retired general at the head of the Department of Defense.2 The safety and security of our democracy demands competent civilian control of our armed forces, the subordination of military power to the civil.

I spent my entire life committed to that principle. In war and in peace, I implemented the policies of civilians elected and appointed over me, leaders like Secretary Panetta. And I know that being a member of the President's Cabinet, a political appointee, requires a different perspective and unique duties from a career in uniform. I intend to -- to surround myself with and empower experience-capable, civilian leaders who will enable healthy civil military relations grounded in meaningful oversight.

Indeed, I plan to include the undersecretary of defense for policy in top decision-making meetings, ensuring strategic and operational decisions are informed by policy. I will rebalance collaboration and coordination between the Joint Staff and the OSD [Office of the Secretary of Defense] Staff to ensure civilian input is integrated at every level of the process. And I will make clear my expectation that the Pentagon work hand-in-glove with the State Department, supporting the work of our diplomats.

Now, I know that a large measure of civilian control of our military lies right here with this body. And if you confirm me, I assure you that the Pentagon, under my leadership, will respect your oversight responsibilities. And we will be transparent with you, and I will provide you my best counsel, and I will seek yours.

And just like you, I will take seriously the many challenging -- many challenges facing our country, the most immediate of which, in my view, is the pandemic. And if confirmed, I will quickly review the Department's contributions to coronavirus relief efforts, ensuring that we're doing everything that we can to help distribute vaccines across the country and to vaccinate our troops and preserve readiness.

We'll also do everything we can for our military families. They, too, are educating kids at home and losing their jobs and trying to stock the pantry. I know this committee shares my view that we owe them our best efforts to lighten that load.

We also owe our people a working environment free of discrimination, hate, and harassment. And if confirmed, I will fight hard to stamp out sexual assault and to rid our ranks of racists and extremists, and to create a climate where everyone fit and willing has the opportunity to serve this country with dignity. The job of the Department of Defense is to keep America safe from our enemies. But we can't do that if some of those enemies lie within our own ranks.

For those enemies and adversaries outside the ranks and around the world, we need resources to match strategy, and strategy matched to policy, and policy matched to the will of the American people.3 Globally, I understand that Asia must be the focus of our effort, and I see China in particular as a pacing challenge for the Department. And I know I'll need your help in -- in tackling these problems and to give our men and women in uniform the tools that they need to fight and win.

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee:

While I did not seek this job, I consider it an honor. And if confirmed, I will carry out the mission of the Department of Defense 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. And I would not be here asking for your support if I felt that I was unable or -- unable or unwilling to question people with whom I once served in operations that I once led; or too afraid to speak my mind to you or to the President.

I was a General and a soldier -- and I'm proud of that. But today I appear before you as a citizen, the son of a postal worker and a homemaker from Thomasville, Georgia -- and I'm proud of that, too. And if you confirm me, I am prepared to serve now as a civilian, fully acknowledging the importance of this distinction.

And I thank you again for consideration of my nomination and for your steadfast support of our men and women in uniform, our civilians, and their families.

And I look forward to answering your questions.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Book/CDs by Michael E. Eidenmuller, Published by McGraw-Hill (2008)

1A reference to the Washington, D.C. protests of 6 January 2021 and the attendant incursion into the U.S. Capitol Building by a subset of protesters. Among the various actions and communiqués by Senate Armed Services Committee members during the incursion was this twitter message from Senator Reed: "Im safe & determined to defend our democracy from these heinous attacks. This violent mob, incited by Trump, breached the Capitol, but our work continues & our principles endure. They will not destroy our democracy, undo the election, or subvert the will of the American People!" [Source: https://twitter.com/SenJackReed/status/1346916072373551106]

2 The National Security Act of 1947 requires a waiting period of seven years "before retired military personnel can assume the role of Secretary of Defense." The rule has been waived twice previously by an act of Congress, most recently with the nomination of General James Mattis who served as the nation's Secretary of Defense under the previous Administration. [Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jim_Mattis]

3 Anadiplosis

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