US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who is battling prostate cancer, has transferred his duties to his deputy, Kathleen Hicks, hours after he was taken to the hospital for an “urgent bladder problem,” according to a spokesperson.
“At approximately 4:55 pm today, Secretary Austin transferred the functions and duties of the office (…) to Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks. “The Undersecretary of Defense assumed the duties and responsibilities,” Pentagon spokesman Pat Ryder said in a statement.
Lloyd Austin, who led US troops in their 2003 raid on Baghdad, was chosen by President Joe Biden to be the first African-American defense secretary.
A veteran of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, the retired general defeated the favorite for the job, former Undersecretary of Defense Michele Flournoy.
The former general is the first African American to head the largest army in the world, where the black community is strongly represented.
Austin, the former director of the Army’s Central Command (Centcom), the body that oversees military actions in the Middle East, would have been chosen over Flournoy, who was tipped to become the first woman to head the Pentagon.
Information circulating in 2020 relates that Austin spent four decades in the Army, graduated from the West Point Military Academy, and went on to a career with many assignments, from leading platoons, directing groups of logistics, and managing recruitment, up to high-level positions in the Pentagon.
In March 2003, he served as assistant division commander of the 3rd Infantry Division when it marched from Kuwait to Baghdad during the US invasion of Iraq. And from late 2003 to 2005, he was in Afghanistan, commanding Combined Joint Task Force 180, the main operational group assigned there to stabilize the region.
He took over as head of Centcom in 2013, leading the fight against the Islamic State group. In that position, he replaced Jim Mattis, who served as secretary of defense for Republican President Donald Trump between 2017 and 2019.