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News | April 5, 2016

Austin leaves legacy of leading from the front

WASHINGTON (April 5, 2016) — Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III has always led from the front.

In 41 years of service that culminated with serving as U.S. Central Command commander from March 22, 2013, to March 30, 2016, Austin has led every formation from a platoon to a combatant command.

One very public example of his leadership occurred when he served as the 3rd Infantry Division’s assistant division commander for maneuver during the campaign that took Baghdad in April 2003.

Most brigadier generals carry a pistol as a personal weapon; Austin carried an M4 carbine and a full ammo load. He is a big man, and the carbine looked like a peashooter in his hands. But the troops loved that he carried it, and he obviously knew how to use it.

Pointy End of the Spear

In March 2003, Austin was with the troops in Iraq at the pointy end of the spear. His calm demeanor and never-ruffled attitude instilled confidence in commanders and troops alike.

Early in his career, the general said, he learned from a noncommissioned officer the importance of leading from the front. “Back when I was a brand-new second lieutenant, I was ready to take on the world,” Austin said. “I wanted to get out and do great things.”

His platoon sergeant, Army Sgt. 1st Class “Fox” Ballard -- a Vietnam veteran -- pulled his lieutenant aside and gave him some advice that resonated throughout the rest of Austin’s career. “He said, ‘You should worry about one thing, and one thing only: Take care of your soldiers and be out in front of them and lead them, and they will do whatever you ask of them and they will follow you anywhere,’” the general remembered.

Austin said it was the most valuable advice he received in his career. “Over the years, I have found that if you take care of your people, and if you earn their respect, they will move mountains for you and together you will accomplish great and important things,” he said.

The general was born in Mobile, Alabama, and grew up in Thomasville, Georgia. He attended the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York, and was commissioned in the infantry in 1975. “My plan after graduating from West Point was actually to serve in the Army for five years, and then I was going to go to law school and become a lawyer,” he said.

Changing Plans

But things changed. After graduation, Austin served in infantry assignments in Germany. But Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and the 82nd Airborne Division was the focus of his career. There, he commanded at the company, battalion and brigade level.

The general served on the Joint Staff and then went to Fort Stewart, Georgia, as the 3rd Infantry Division’s assistant division commander for maneuver. The division led the assault on Iraq in March 2003. In just 22 days, soldiers went from the berm separating Kuwait from Iraq all the way into Baghdad, a drive that culminated in the “Thunder Run,” where tankers and infantrymen from the 2nd Brigade took the international airport and penetrated the heart of the Iraqi capital.

Next, Austin and his M4 went to Afghanistan, where he served as the commander of the 10th Mountain Division and Combined Joint Task Force 180. “We didn’t have many resources, but were able to move forward,” he recalled. “At that time, we were standing up the second battalion of Afghan army forces. Today the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces number upwards of 325,000.”

Back in Iraq

He went back to Iraq as a lieutenant general in command of the 18th Airborne Corps, which was the nucleus of Multinational Corps Iraq.

Austin then served as the director of the Joint Staff and reported back to Iraq as commander of U.S. Forces Iraq and the completion of Operation New Dawn -- the transfer of security authority to the Iraqi military.

“As the commander of U.S. Forces Iraq, I was overall responsible for getting all of our troops and equipment out of Iraq by the December 2011 deadline -- that presented the largest logistical challenge since World War II, and we got it done with time to spare,” he said.

Austin became the commander of U.S. Central Command in March 2013, and for more than three years, he was responsible for CENTCOM’s incredibly tumultuous Central Region, which consists of 20 countries including Iraq, Syria, Iran, Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Egypt and Lebanon. Early on in Austin’s tenure, in June 2014, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant terrorist organization seized the key Iraqi city of Mosul and pushed south and west. Austin spearheaded the development of the military plan to defeat ISIL in Iraq and Syria, and he has been overall in charge of the campaign these last 21 months. He leaves with the momentum of the campaign in Iraq and Syria clearly on the side of the 66-nation counter-ISIL coalition.

Austin is extremely proud of the coalition’s achievements. But it always goes back to the troops, the general said.

“I’m very proud to have had the opportunity to lead troops in combat,” he said. “I have seen our young leaders do amazing things in really tough and dangerous situations.”

Tremendous Changes

Austin has seen tremendous changes in the military since he attended West Point. In 1971, the United States still had hundreds of thousands of troops deployed in South Vietnam, fighting a war that had become enormously unpopular. The American people were unable to separate the policies from the soldiers and as a result, many Americans looked down on their military. Today, the American military is one of the most-respected organizations in the United States.

“The Army has evolved over the past four decades to meet the demands of the changing security environment and to support emerging requirements,” Austin said. “This evolution is necessary to ensure that our Army remains effective and the dominant and most capable military force in the world.”

The military Austin joined was largely made up of unmarried draftees. That is not the case today, and the development of a family-focused military, the general said, is one of the biggest changes he has seen.

“My family has been a tremendous support to me over the course of my career,” he said. “My parents, my siblings, and especially my bride, Charlene -- their support has enabled me to focus on the mission and on the troops that were placed under my charge.”

The uniforms, equipment and force structure have changed, Austin said, but what hasn’t changed is “the greatness of the American soldier.”

“This business -- the profession or arms -- is all about people,” the general said. “They are what make ours the greatest and the most powerful military in the world, and they are why I have put this uniform on every day for nearly 41 years.”