US military needs 'humility, a willingness to learn' to protect the country, Biden's top defense official says

  • Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin issued a statement to the entire US military outlining the seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic and reviewing the traits required to build an effective fighting force.
  • In a departure from the Trump administration's talking points, Austin stressed the value of humility and "a willingness to learn."
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Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin issued a statement to the entire US military outlining the seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic and reviewing the traits required to build an effective fighting force. 

In a stark departure from the Trump administration's talking points, Austin, who was just confirmed by the US Senate on Friday, stressed the value of humility and "a willingness to learn."

"None of us succeeds at this business alone," Austin said in his letter. "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."

Austin also stated that the COVID-19 pandemic was a top priority of his in the near future, and that the military would continue to play a role in controlling the pandemic. 

"Right now, of course, doing my job also means helping our country get control of the pandemic, which has killed more than 400,000 Americans," he said in the letter. "You have already come to the aid of our Nation's health care professionals. You can expect that mission to continue."

"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," he added.

Austin was confirmed by the Senate in a 93-2 vote, allowing the retired four-star US Army general to serve with approval from Congress. Unlike some of his predecessors, Austin's nomination required a congressional waiver. Austin's immediate predecessor, Christopher Miller, served as the defense secretary in an acting capacity, allowing then-President Donald Trump to avoid going through Congress after firing a confirmed secretary in his administration's final months.

The National Security Act of 1947  requires a defense secretary pick to be out of uniform for at least seven years, to which Austin fell short three years. Former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis also required a waiver, who had only been out of the Marine Corps for three years before being tapped to lead the military.

Austin, who served in the military for over four decades, ended his message to the troops by saying he was "proud to be back on your team."

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