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Austin Outlines His Top 3 Priorities on Defense, People, Teamwork

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 March 5, 2021 | BY Terri Moon Cronk , DOD News

Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III has announced his top three priorities for the Defense Department: to develop the right people, priorities and purpose of mission. According to a memorandum from his office, the mission is to continue to defend the nation from enemies, foreign and domestic.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III speaks to service members outside a building.

“This will require aligning our priorities and capabilities to a changing and dynamic threat landscape,” the secretary said in the memo. “We will do so in a way that is based on a sober assessment of our strategic needs and recognize the importance of building and sustaining a strong workforce and unity within our department, across the nation and with our allies and partners around the world.”

Austin’s three priorities — defending the nation, taking care of our people and succeeding through teamwork — will guide our efforts, he emphasized. Following are the priorities under his leadership:

A soldier is vaccinated.


  • Defeating COVID-19 is the greatest proximate challenge to our nation’s security. The DOD will continue to act boldly and quickly to support federal government efforts to defeat the disease, defend the force against it and work with our domestic and international partners to protect our nation from potential novel and deadly viruses of the future. The  DOD will continue to give direct support to the government’s vaccination efforts and encourage military personnel to get the vaccine to remain ready to protect the nation globally. Both challenges demand an aggressive DOD effort to inform and educate people about protective measures and the safety and effectiveness of the vaccines.
  • Prioritize China as the Pacing Challenge: This is DOD’s No. 1 pacing challenge, and it will develop operational concepts, capabilities and plans to bolster deterrence and maintain its competitive advantage. The approach toward China will be coordinated and synchronized across the enterprise to advance DOD’s priorities — integrated into domestic and foreign policy — in a whole-of-government strategy, strengthened by DOD’s alliances and partnerships and supported on a bipartisan basis in Congress. 
  • Address Advanced, Persistent Threats: In addition to addressing China, the DOD will remain ready to respond to and effectively deter nation-state threats emanating from Russia, Iran and North Korea, and disrupt transnational and non-state actor threats from violent extremist organizations — such as those operating in the Middle East, Africa and South and Central Asia. The DOD will seek to impose cost where necessary, while using all of its tools to lower the risk of escalation with its adversaries and respond to challenges below the level of armed conflict. The DOD will continue to maintain credible deterrence against advanced threats, and “right-size” its missions around the world in a transparent, principled manner. 
  • Innovate and Modernize DOD: The department will be innovative at a speed and scale that matches a dynamic threat landscape, requiring advances in joint-warfighting concepts and a commitment to rapid experimentation and capabilities fielding. The DOD will divest itself of legacy systems and programs that don’t meet its security needs any longer, while investing smartly for the future. The DOD will improve the efficiency of the force and guarantee freedom of action in contested, complex operating environments. 
  • Tackle the Climate Crisis: We face a growing climate crisis that is impacting our nation’s missions, plans and capabilities and the DOD must take immediate action. In line with President Joe Biden’s direction, the DOD will elevate the climate as a national security priority, integrating climate considerations into DOD’s policies, strategies and partner engagements. The DOD will incorporate climate-risk assessments into war-gaming, modeling and simulation, and bolster mission resilience and deploy solutions that optimize capability, and reduce our carbon footprint. 


  • DOD will Grow its Talent: People are the department’s most-critical asset. We remain the preeminent fighting force in the world because of our personnel in and out of uniform. “I have never had more confidence in our ability to meet the security challenges of today and tomorrow,” Austin said. To maintain that advantage, the DOD will build opportunities for growth and development, invest in training and education and create new opportunities for advancement that drive promotion and retention for our total civilian and military workforce. The DOD will build out a range of skills and capabilities in the workforce and remove barriers that limit its people from realizing their full potential as partners in the department’s work. 
  • Build Resilience and Readiness: The DOD maintains and enhances force readiness and develops capabilities to protect America when it fully embraces a diversity of backgrounds, experiences and thought. The DOD will lead with its values, building diversity, equity and inclusion into all aspects of its work. Inclusivity will drive innovative solutions across the enterprise and create a constructive environment in which every person has the space to contribute fully. The DOD will never spare support for its people, and will protect the safety, health and welfare of service members and their families, and civilian employees. The DOD will also work closely with the president, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the interagency to ensure that it properly supports our veterans and their families long after they have served their duty. 
  • Ensure Accountable Leadership: Some behaviors are antithetical to our values, undermine our readiness, and put our effectiveness at risk, but are alive within our workforce. Leaders at every level will be responsible for building a safe environment for DOD people and guaranteeing swift and clear accountability to anyone who does not act within the highest standards of the department. The DOD will not tolerate sexual assault and sexual harassment. Extremism also presents a complex and unique challenge to the DOD, which the department must meet head-on working to permanently stamp out extremism in the ranks. Both efforts and others will ensure that we provide every member of the department a safe and supportive place to serve their country – one free from discrimination, hate, harassment and fear. 


  • Join Forces with our Allies and Partners: U.S. allies and partners form a force multiplier and one of the greatest strategic assets we have in protecting our nation. Facing complex challenges that span across borders, the department’s success will depend on how closely we work with our friends around the world to secure our common interests and promote our shared values. We cannot meet our responsibilities alone, but rather, we will consult with our allies and partners and, when appropriate, we will act together. Where one country may lack the unique capabilities of others will fill that void, making us stronger as a team than the sum of our individual parts. 
  • Work in Partnership with Our Nation: Protecting the nation requires teamwork at every level — state, local, tribal and federal. It requires cooperation from all with a stake in our national security: our interagency, Congress, private industry and the American people. It also requires leading with diplomacy, the nation’s primary means of engaging the world, and our first national security tool of choice. The DOD will redouble its commitment to a cooperative, whole-of-nation approach to national security that builds consensus, drives creative solutions to crises, and guarantees that we lead from a position of strength, fielding a credible force, ready to back up the hard work of our diplomats around the world and our national partners.
  • Build Unity Within DOD: To guarantee the DOD remains the greatest joint-fighting force in the world, we will continue to build unity of effort and mission across components, commands, services and theaters. We will ensure meaningful civil-military cooperation, safeguarding the proper balance of civilian and military inputs to our policies and missions. The DOD will demonstrate teamwork at its highest and expect it across every level, because working collaboratively will ensure the greatest success in protecting and defending the nation. 

“As I said in my confirmation hearing, we need resources matched to strategy, strategy matched to policy, and policy matched to the will of the American people,” Austin said, adding that focusing on his priorities will help us develop policy, fashion strategy, and acquire resources. 

Soldiers in a tank take part in a NATO-led exercise.

“I hope you will consider how you can assist in that effort,” the secretary said. “Thank you for your service to our country and for your commitment to our national security. I look forward to working with each one of you as we build a department ready to meet the challenges of tomorrow, together.”


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