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Austin Tells DOD Education Activity Students About His Heroes, Inspirations

Feb. 26, 2021 | BY Jim Garamone , DOD News

Each generation has heroes — people who rise above the humdrum and mediocre to inspire those around them and who follow them, to aspire to better themselves and their nations.

Henry O. Flipper — the first African-American graduate of the U.S. Military Academy — was one of the heroes who inspired Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III, the secretary told students at Defense Department Education Activity high schools at Fort Knox and Fort Campbell, Kentucky.

A historic photo shows a young man standing with his arm on the back of a chair.
Henry Ossian Flipper
A historic photo from the 1800s shows Henry Ossian Flipper, the first African-American to graduate from the U.S. Military Academy. Flipper was commissioned as an Army lieutenant after his graduation in 1873. He was then assigned to the 10th Cavalry at Fort Sill, Okla., and later became the assistant commissary of subsistence at Fort Davis, Texas.
Photo By: Courtesy photo
VIRIN: 150205-F-ZZ999-111H

The first African American leader of the department, who was also a West Point graduate, spoke virtually about his motivations and inspirations for Black History Month.

Flipper was from Austin's hometown of Thomasville, Georgia. He was born enslaved and freed as a result of the Civil War. After his 1877 graduation from West Point, Flipper was commissioned a second lieutenant in the 10th Cavalry Regiment — an all-Black unit in the western U.S. that American Indians called Buffalo Soldiers.

A man wearing a business suit sits at a table and speaks into a microphone.
Austin Remarks
Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III speaks to high school students at Fort Campbell and Fort Knox, Ky., about the importance of marking Black History Month, Feb. 26, 2021. The virtual question-and-answer event was sponsored by the DOD Education Activity.
Photo By: Lisa Ferdinando, DOD
VIRIN: 210226-D-BN624-0112

"As a young man growing up in Georgia, I never would have, would have imagined that I'd be walking the halls of the Pentagon, let alone doing that with the president and the vice president of the United States of America," Austin told the students.

"It is my distinct honor to serve as a secretary of defense," he said. "In that capacity, my number one job is to defend our country and secure our nation's interest[s] around the globe. I do this by leading and serving alongside a diverse group of nearly 3 million hard working professionals — soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and guardians."

A man dressed in a business suit stands in an office with his left hand on the Bible and his right hand raised. A man wearing a military uniform holds the Bible; another man with his back to the camera is in the foreground. All three men wear face masks.
Swearing In
Washington Headquarters Services Director Thomas Muir, left, swears in Lloyd J. Austin III as secretary of defense at the Pentagon, Jan. 22, 2021. Holding the Bible is Marine Corps Lt. Col. Caleb Hyatt, the junior military assistant to the secretary of defense. Austin is the first African-American to lead the Defense Department.
Photo By: Lisa Ferdinando, DOD
VIRIN: 210122-D-BN624-0115C

The secretary told the students that DOD is stronger the more diverse it is. He wants DOD to mirror the make-up of the larger American people, which it does with 40 percent of the force representing people of color.

"I think … the military has led the way … in terms of providing opportunity, not only to join, but providing opportunity for promotion," he said. "One of the things that I think we're going to have to work on going forward is making sure that the senior ranks of the military also reflect what the military looks like." 

Austin wants senior leadership in the United States military to mirror America's diversity. "That's one of the things I'm going to work on while I'm in this job," he said.

"Black history is American history," Austin said. Heroes of every hue inspire Americans of every hue.

The heroes are willing to step up and make the country better. They are willing to secure the freedoms and rights and privileges for all Americans. "Your generation won't be any different," Austin said.