General (GEN) Lloyd Austin is currently the 33rd Vice Chief of Staff of the United States Army (VCSA), a position he assumed on January 31, 2012. Having served in the military since 1975, GEN Austin has seen the full transition of the Army following the post-Vietnam days into its current force multiplier – blending soldiers with the most current technology available into an effective and balanced fighting force. As an African-American his career also demonstrates the perseverance of a dedicated leader to break down the military’s dogmatic 1970’s cultural barriers, and today is one of the leading senior members of the US armed forces.
Born in Mobile, Alabama in 1953, then Lieutenant Austin was commissioned in 1975 after graduating from West Point and assigned as a Rifle Platoon Leader with the 3rd Infantry Division in Germany. From there he was assigned into various command positions attributed to his growing confidence with commanding troops in both the 7th Infantry and later the 82nd Airborne. 
By 1981 Captain Austin was serving at the Army’s Recruiting Command where he completed his Masters Degree in Education with Auburn University. Afterwards he went on to become a Company Tactical Officer, until being selected for the prestigious General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Austin would then go on to serve in a variety of line units developing his leadership qualities and gaining invaluable experience for later in life as a senior commander. Some of these locales included Fort Drum’s 10th Mountain Division, a return to Fort Bragg’s 82nd Airborne, the J-3 at the Pentagon, and as the Division Commander for Maneuver at the 3rd Infantry Division (now relocated to Fort Stewart, Georgia) where he helped spearhead the division’s invasion of Iraq in 2003. Throughout these assignments his career development tracked above that of his peers and he was known as a commander with both an intense focus for success, but concern for his soldiers as well.
Between September 2003 and August 2005 GEN Austin served as the Commanding General of the 10th Mountain Division also serving as JTF-180 Commander during his deployment in Operation Enduring Freedom, Afghanistan. From there he went on to serve as the Chief of Staff at the United States Central Command in Tampa, Florida until 2006.
In December 2006, GEN Austin was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant General and assigned as commander of the XVIII Airborne Corps out of Fort Bragg, North Carolina. While there he again deployed this time to Iraq in 2008 and became the second highest-ranking commander to assume control of Multi-National Corps Iraq, replacing Lieutenant General Raymond T. Odierno.
In August 2009, GEN Austin transferred command of the XVIII Airborne Corps to become Director of the Joint Staff. However that position was short-lived and on September 1st, 2010 GEN Austin assumed command for all US forces in Iraq at a ceremony, which included guest speakers such as Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary Robert Gates, and Joint Chairmen Adm. Mike Mullen.
On December 14th, 2011 GEN Austin was nominated and confirmed to be the next VCSA, only the 33rd member to ever do so, taking office January 31st, 2012. The position of the VCSA is deputy to the Chief of Staff of the US Army and handles the daily administration responsibilities. The VCSA is considered the second highest-ranking officer on active duty within the Department of the Army and is one of the two Senior Military Leadership officers within the Department of the Army (the first being the Chief of Staff of the Army themselves). Some responsibilities of the Vice Chief of the Staff for the US Army include auditing, inspector general, legislative, and public affairs while assisting the Chief of Staff in the management of Army installations. On March 22, 2013 GEN Austin assumed command of US Central Command (CENTCOM) in a ceremony at MacDill Air Force Base, Tampa, Florida.
GEN Austin’s large 3” challenge coin represents both the position of the VCSA and himself as a senior ranking member of the US Army. Featuring a unique cutout design, the center leaves a five-sided shape alluding to the US Pentagon in Washington D.C. where the Office for the VCSA is established. However, the features on both sides of GEN Austin’s challenge coin give further evidence to his values and position.
Centered on the challenge coin’s obverse is the symbol for a Flag Officer of the US Army. A cross red and white flag with four stars denoting the rank of the individual while a fifth larger star is centered on the flag and behind the seal of the US Army. Below the flag, and on the bottom of the center-cut pentagon, is GEN Austin’s full signature, a recent commonality amongst commanders to include on their coins and adds a level of personal connection between the commander, and the challenge coin being presented. Along the outer rim of the coin is a black band featuring “General Lloyd J. Austin III” in brass lettering across the top, and again four white stars on top of a red field along the bottom signifying GEN Austin’s rank.
On the challenge coin’s reverse is the seal of the US Army. Here a suit of armor stands in front of artillery, mortars, explosives, drums, and two flags. These elements symbolize the first icons for the US Army as basic tools of war, while above them is the Continental Army snake enclosing a banner that reads “This We’ll Defend”, a common US Army motto often taken from Drill Instructors School as an ethos for the military. GEN Austin’s choice to use these elements shows his strong interests in the Army’s heritage and an interest in presenting that. On the bottom of all these elements is the date the US Army was first established “1775” as part of the Continential Army. Around the outer edge is a red band with brass lettering along the top half reading “Presented by the 33rd” and along the bottom “Chief of Staff of the Army”.
1. African American Profiles in the US Military. Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III. 2012. http://www.army.mil/africanamericans/profiles/austin.html (accessed November 20, 2012).
2. Bigenho, Sgt. Laura M. Austin Assumes Command of Multinational Corps Iraq. US Department of Defense, American Forces Press Service, American Forces Press Service, 2008.