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
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
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,”
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
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
“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.”
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.”