WASHINGTON – President-elect Joe Biden's pick for defense secretary made his first foray into the world of Twitter on Monday, an uncharacteristic move for a retired general who studiously avoided the public spotlight for much of his four decades in the Army.
Retired Gen. Lloyd Austin's social media debut reflected a recognition within the Biden transition team that the nomination faces hurdles on Capitol Hill from lawmakers who balk at putting a career military officer in what is typically a civilian post. And it suggests they believe Austin will have to sell himself to lawmakers.
His first posting gave a nod to his private nature.
“They say you learn something new every day. Well, today I’m learning about Twitter,” Austin, 67, tweeted mid-morning. He followed it up quickly with a video and a shoutout to service members and their families. “If confirmed, it will be the honor of my lifetime to lead them with honor and integrity," he said.
Austin would be the first Black leader of the Pentagon, a historic choice in a year that has seen racial unrest, protests and violence across the country. But he will need a waiver from both chambers of Congress. Under the law, a service member must be out of uniform for at least seven years before serving as defense secretary. Austin retired in 2016.
That waiver has been granted only twice — most recently in the case of retired Marine Gen. Jim Mattis, who served as President Donald Trump’s first Pentagon chief.
The bulk of the other Biden picks for top administration and Cabinet posts have longstanding Twitter accounts. Many have used their accounts, as well as the transition team's account, to introduce themselves to a broader American audience.
Austin is known for avoiding public remarks, even though he held a number of high-profile, critical military jobs. He was commander in Baghdad of the Multinational Corps-Iraq in 2008 when Barack Obama was elected president, and he returned to lead U.S. troops there from 2010 through 2011.
He then served as the first Black vice chief of staff of the Army, the service’s No. 2 position. And a year later he took command of U.S. Central Command, as the top American commander for the Middle East. There, he developed and began implementing a U.S. military strategy to roll back the Islamic State group, which was capturing territory across Iraq and Syria.
Austin's Twitter video treads a careful line between touting his military career and emphasizing his current status as a civilian. For much of it he's seated next to an American flag, dressed in a suit and tie. But the first scene is a photo of him, in combat uniform as a three-star general, with his wife, and other pictures show him in military dress during his career, meeting with troops and families.
The message is a safe, personal one that resonates with families. He talks about service members who leave home to fight for their country, missing birthdays and other events, while worried spouses wait at home.
Those families, he said, “are absolutely afraid to answer the phone if it ever rings late at night. You’re afraid to answer the door unless you can see who’s at the door. If you can imagine going through that day in, day out over multiple deployments, you can begin to think how much our spouses and our families sacrifice.”
By early afternoon, Austin had more than 7,000 followers, and the number was rapidly growing.