January 23, 2021 7:12 am
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secretary of defense cites need to contain coronavirus as dod priority

Hours after making history by swearing in as the nation’s first Black defense secretary, Lloyd Austin issued a brief message to the force, citing the need to contain COVID-19 and his focus on ensuring the force is effectively equipped to fight.

Austin, the former four-star commander of U.S. Central Command, entered the Pentagon just after noon Friday, wearing a face mask. He had been overwhelmingly confirmed by the Senate earlier that morning, following a Thursday vote granting him a waiver to serve in light of his recent military experience.

In the message to the Defense Department, Austin said he was honored to serve again.

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“The way I see it, my job as Secretary of Defense is to make you more effective at doing yours. That means ensuring you have the tools, technology, weapons, and training to deter and defeat our enemies,” he said. “It means establishing sound policy and strategy and assigning you clear missions. It means putting a premium on cooperation with our allies and partners. And it means living up to our core values, the same ones our fellow citizens expect of us.”

He did not cite any specific challenges, but in a Jan. 19 confirmation hearing he was direct about the military’s current fight to rid the ranks of violence-minded extremists.

“We can never take our hands off the wheel on this,” he said at the time.

In his letter to the force, Austin indicated that Defense Department support of the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic would continue.

” … We must help the Federal Government move further and faster to eradicate the devastating effects of the coronavirus,” he wrote. “To that end, we will also do everything we can to vaccinate and care for our workforce and to look for meaningful ways to alleviate the pressure this pandemic has exerted on you and your families.”

Austin, who takes the helm of the Defense Department two days after the start of a new administration and will oversee a new array of service secretaries and deputies, many of whom have yet to be nominated by President Joe Biden, ended on a collaborative note.

“None of us succeeds at this business alone,” he said. “Defending the country requires teamwork and cooperation. It requires a certain humility, a willingness to learn, and absolute respect for one another. I know you share my devotion to these qualities.”

— Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.

Related: It’s Official: Lloyd Austin Is the First Black Defense Secretary

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