Thomasville native to be top military commander in Iraq

Photo by Laura Williams

Photo by Laura Williams

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- While Gen. George Petraeus' assignment to Afghanistan has been the focus for weeks on war coverage in the media, another high-profile military assignment has been made in the war effort -- this one involving a native of Southwest Georgia.

Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin III, a native of Thomasville, was confirmed by Congress last month to become the nation's top military commander in Iraq. Before his confirmation, he served as the senior aide to Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Austin will receive his fourth star and relieve Gen. Ray Odierno, who has been reassigned to Joint Forces Command, Pentagon officials say.

Austin, who will likely take over in September, is expected to oversee the drawdown of American forces in Iraq and to tackle the more diplomatically challenging task of helping Iraqi leaders transform their fragile democratic republic into a self-sustaining nation.

Pentagon spokesperson Maj. Shawn Turner confirmed to The Albany Herald on Tuesday that Austin is preparing for the transition and will be heading to Iraq by the end of the summer to assume his new command.

A 1975 graduate of West Point, Austin began his military career as a second lieutenant in the infantry and has served and held various commands during his career.

He was the assistant division commander for the 3rd Infantry Division based out of Ft. Stewart in Hinesville during initial stages and invasion of Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom from July 2001 until June 2003, and became the first African American to lead a U.S. Army Corps into battle.

At that point, he took over as commander of Combined Joint Task Force 180 under Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.

Austin was then promoted to chief of staff at U.S. Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida. In 2006, he was named commander of the 18th Airborne Corps at Fort Bragg and oversaw the corps' deployment to Iraq in February 2008 and was second-in-command to Petraeus. In 2009, he relinquished that command and was named director of the Joint Staff at the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Has been awarded numerous medals and citations during his career, including the Silver Star.

Austin is a product of the Thomasville public school system, where he graduated in 1971.

In 2007, he was inducted into the Thomasville-Thomas County Sports Hall of Fame -- an acknowledgment of his prowess on the basketball court, where he was captain of the 1971 Thomasville Bulldog team. He was also voted a senior superlative by his senior class.