Charlene Austin is a consultant for military service members and their families and the wife of Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin. The couple has been married for more than 40 years.
Lloyd Austin, a retired four-star Army general, made history as the first Black man to serve as Secretary of Defense. He was confirmed by the Senate on January 22, 2021, on a nearly unanimous vote.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Lloyd Austin Praised His Wife for Making Him a ‘Better Man’ During His Senate Confirmation Hearing
Lloyd and Charlene Austin have been married for more than 40 years. During his opening statement before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Lloyd Austin praised his wife for her strong support throughout their marriage: “I want to thank my wonderful wife, Charlene, who, like today, has stood by my side for more than 40 years — guiding me, supporting me, and making me a better man.”
Before he was nominated and confirmed as Defense Secretary for the Biden administration, Lloyd Austin served on the board of trustees at Auburn University. On his school profile, the retired general wrote about his military experiences and how his career choice had impacted his family, especially Charlene:
As a member of the Armed Forces, I was transferred to a different assignment every three years. Charlene faced the challenge common to all military spouses: changing jobs frequently and wrestling with certification at each new stop. Charlene had an additional responsibility of leading family support groups whose ranks were filled with young spouses wrestling with tough issues while their spouses were deployed.
2. Charlene Austin Has a Master’s Degree in Education from Auburn & Served on the University’s National Alumni Council
Charlene Austin, whose maiden name was Banner according to CNN, was born and raised in Washington, D.C. According to her Department of Defense profile, she earned a bachelor’s degree from Fayetteville State University in North Carolina.
It’s unclear what Charlene Austin did for work as a young adult. She and Lloyd Austin both enrolled at Auburn University for advanced degrees in the early 1980s.
Lloyd Austin, who had attended the United States Military Academy at West Point as an undergraduate, earned a master’s degree in counselor education. Charlene Austin graduated in 1985 with a master’s degree in education, with a focus on guidance and counseling.
Lloyd Austin explained on Auburn’s website, “Since we both had considerable experience in the world of work when we enrolled, [Charlene and I] viewed our time at Auburn as an excellent opportunity to sharpen our existing skills and to acquire additional skills that could potentially make us better and stronger leaders.”
Charlene Austin later returned to Auburn to serve on its College of Education National Alumni Council. Council members serve three-year terms and as of March 2021, Charlene Austin was still listed on the organization’s web page. She was described on the site as a “Non-Profit Consultant for Military Service-Members and their Families.”
3. She Has Won Several Awards for Service to Military Families
Lloyd Austin’s military career stretched 41 years before he formally retired in April 2016. His last position before retirement was as the Commander of U.S. Central Command. As explained in his Department of Defense bio, he was “responsible for all military operations in the Middle East and Afghanistan” and led “U.S. and coalition efforts to battle ISIS in Iraq and Syria.”
Charlene Austin was by his side throughout his exemplary military career and therefore had a deep understanding of what service members’ families experience while loved ones are overseas. She used her master’s degree in education and counseling to benefit those military families, according to her Defense Department profile.
Charlene Austin’s work experience included serving as a “federal employee holding leadership positions as Army Community Service Employment Program Manager, Army Continuing Education Guidance Counselor, and Troop and Family Members Transition Specialist for the Army Career and Alumni Program” over the course of her career.
Between 2009 and 2016, she provided volunteer consulting to organizations that work to improve the lives of military families. Charlene Austin noted on her bio that “military families have been stretched and impacted in unexpected ways over the past 16 years of military conflict, yet remain resilient.”
She has been honored with several awards for her work with military families. The awards included the Secretary of the Army Public Service Award in 2013; the Department of Defense Medal for Distinguished Public Service and the Department of the Army Distinguished Civilian Service decoration medal in 2016; and multiple Commanding General’s Awards.
In 2019, she served on the advisory council for Purdue University’s Military Family Research Institute. She was listed as the “Senior Mentor for New General Officer Spouses” on the website.
Before her husband was confirmed as Defense Secretary, Charlene Austin teamed up with Dr. Jill Biden to benefit Operation Gratitude in December 2020, according to Military.com. They helped put together care packages for deployed troops. Lloyd Austin was also there to assemble packages.
4. Charlene Austin’s Public Service Includes Work for Civilian Organizations
Celebraing one of our own: Congrats to Ret. General Lloyd Austin and his wife, our own Soror Charlene Austin ( initiated at Fort Bragg Area Alumnae Chapter in the Spring of 1998). Our new Sec of Defense!#ManyFirstsAndFirstOfMany #BlackBoyJoy #BlackGirlMagic #WhatGlassCeiling pic.twitter.com/81rrLOqjrM
— FortBraggAreaAlumnae (@FortBraggDeltas) January 22, 2021
The group prepares women for jobs by providing professional clothing and “career development services.” It’s unclear how long Austin was affiliated with the Tampa chapter; her name was not listed on the website as of March 2021.
While the family was based in Tampa, Florida, Austin served on the Advisory Committee for the United Way Suncoast – Mission United Project and on its Board of Governance.
She has also been affiliated with the Delta Sigma Theta sorority since 1998. According to its website, the sorority is focused on public service and its members are predominantly “Black, college-educated women.”
5. Charlene Austin Had 2 Sons Before Marrying Lloyd Austin
Charlene Austin was born in December 1947, according to a search of online records. She has kept information about her early life private, or at least offline. But she may have been married before meeting Lloyd Austin.
If Charlene and Lloyd Austin have grandchildren, they appear to have plenty of space for visits. Lloyd Austin’s profile on The American Academy of Diplomacy website states that he and Charlene live in Great Falls, Virginia. A search of online records suggests the couple purchased a 6-bedroom home there in 2018.