Gen. Lloyd Austin Ends 41-year Army Career

U.S. Central Command Commander Gen. Lloyd Austin III testifies on Capitol Hill Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2015, before the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on U.S. military operations to counter the Islamic State in Iraq. Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP
U.S. Central Command Commander Gen. Lloyd Austin III testifies on Capitol Hill Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2015, before the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on U.S. military operations to counter the Islamic State in Iraq. Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III was a quiet general and a soldier's soldier.

Austin, whose retirement last week ended a 41-year Army career, was known for eschewing the spotlight, but the former Fort Bragg commander often found himself in many a high-profile role.

His latest position was as commanding general of U.S. Central Command, overseeing the U.S. efforts in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere in a vast region that covers the Middle East, from Egypt to Kazakhstan.

In his closing days as an Army general, he was praised for his patient insights, powerful intellect and undeniable presence.

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said few military leaders had overseen operations of greater complexity than Austin.

And despite his success at levels far beyond the "Home of the Airborne," Austin held tight to his Fort Bragg roots.

On his dress uniform, he sported the Sky Dragon patch of the 18th Airborne Corps as his combat service identification badge and wore the unit insignia of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment as his distinctive unit insignia.

At his change of command on March 30, it was the 82nd Airborne's band that played Austin out of his four-star billet.

Marking his retirement on April 5, U.S. leaders praised Austin for his lengthy record of service.

President Obama, in a statement from the White House, said the nation was grateful for that service.

"General Austin's character and competence exemplify what America demands of its military leaders," Obama said. "Over the last three years as commander, U.S. Central Command, General Austin has overseen military operations in one of the most demanding regions of the world, including operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and our broader counter-ISIL campaign. I have relied on his wise judgment and steadfast leadership to help me navigate the many challenges we find there."

"Additionally, as commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, General Austin was instrumental in allowing Iraqis to take the lead for securing the future of their own country," Obama said. "These are among his many accomplishments over a storied military career. I am certain that General Austin will find other ways to serve his country in retirement, and Michelle and I wish him, his wife, Charlene, and his family well as they begin another chapter of their lives."

Austin took the reins of U.S. Central Command in 2013 and led the organization until March 30.

Before that, he served as the Army's vice chief of staff.

Austin's career began in 1975, when he graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York.

The man who would become a four-star general first served at Fort Bragg several years later, when he had his first stint serving in the 82nd Airborne Division, first as commander of the Combat Support Company, 2nd Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment and then as an assistant operations officer for 1st Brigade.

Austin left Fort Bragg in 1981. He returned in 1993 to command the 2nd Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment and then served as G-3 for the 82nd Airborne Division.

After attending the U.S. Army War College at Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania, he returned to Fort Bragg to command the 3rd Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division.

After spending time in the Pentagon -- with the 3rd Infantry Division and as commander of the 10th Mountain Division -- Austin started his final tour of Fort Bragg when, in 2006, he was promoted to lieutenant general and assumed command of the 18th Airborne Corps and Fort Bragg.

He led the corps until 2009, serving the last year of his tenure with the unit overseeing day-to-day operations in Iraq.

But he wasn't done working closely with Fort Bragg troops.

From September 2010 to December 2011, Austin was charged with ending the war in Iraq as commander of U.S. Forces-Iraq. He closed down the war in December, with a staff largely made up of Fort Bragg soldiers from the 18th Airborne Corps.

For the last several years, Austin has overseen the beginning of a new fight in Iraq, this time focused on fending off the Islamic State, while overseeing a war in Afghanistan that has been largely turned over to Afghan forces.

At the change of command in which Austin was replaced by a new U.S. Central Command general, Gen. Joseph Votel, Carter called Austin a "towering figure." Carter was referring not only to Austin's height, but to his penchant for leading from the front.

"It's one of the highest compliments in the Army to be called a soldier's soldier, and for more than four decades, Lloyd Austin has not only demonstrated what it means to be a soldier's soldier, he's come to define it," Carter said.

"Through gallantry on the battlefield which earned him a Silver Star, through the courage he has inspired among his troops and through his quiet, confident determination to see every mission, Lloyd will be remembered among this generation's most accomplished soldiers, statesmen and strategists," Carter said.

He said Austin "showed a remarkable knack for leadership in the Army."

"As Lloyd rose through the ranks, he excelled as leader within some of the Army's most celebrated institutions, whether during his time with the 10th Mountain, the 82nd Airborne or the 18th Airborne Corps, Lloyd left an imprint and a legacy and all he served," Carter said. "But not even a leader of Lloyd's foresight could have anticipated how much the country would ask of him and his family over these past 15 years. Over a period of time when we've asked so much from our troops and their families, few military leaders have given more, seen more and accomplished more than Lloyd Austin."

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