MOULTRIE — When Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III met Maj. Chas Cannon at the Pentagon last year, he found the two had something in common besides their U.S. Military Academy rings.
During their conversation, the U.S. Army Vice Chief of Staff, who hails from Thomasville, found that he and the major from Moultrie share a common high school football coach.
Austin was a lineman on the 1970 Thomasville High School football team coached by Jim Hughes. Cannon also played for Hughes and was a receiver on Colquitt County’s 1994 state championship team.
It was suggested that perhaps the three could get together sometime for dinner.
That sometime came about on Dec. 6 at a dinner hosted by the four-star general and his wife Charlene at their residence at Fort Leslie McNair in Washington.
And Austin and Cannon were not the only former Hughes players at the table that night.
U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Parks Hughes, the former Packers quarterback and Jim Hughes’s son, also attended. Parks Hughes is studying at the War College, also located Fort McNair.
The dinner party also included Jim Hughes’s wife Lillian; U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss; U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston and his wife Libby; U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop; and Maj. Mike Starz, Gen. Austin’s legislative assistant and former classmate of Cannon’s at West Point.
“It was quite a nice affair,” Jim Hughes said, adding that even though it was formal occasion, there was some time for reminiscing and talk about football.
The dinner was one of the last that Austin will play host to at the antebellum home that backs up to Potomac River not far from the Capitol.
That same day, the Pentagon announced that President Obama will nominate Austin to lead the U.S. Central Command.
“During his final deployment to Iraq, Gen. Austin led our military efforts at a particularly important time, overseeing the drawdown of U.S. forces and equipment while simultaneously helping to ensure that hard-fought security gains were preserved and that Iraqis could secure and govern themselves,” Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said in a statement.
Upon confirmation, Austin, 59, will oversee the drawdown of American troops in Afghanistan.
U.S. Central Command, which is located in Tampa, Fla., oversees military operations in the Middle East and the Afghan war.
Austin has been the 33rd Vice Chief of Staff of the Army since Jan. 31, 2012.
The Vice Chief of Staff of the Army is the principal deputy to the Chief of Staff of the Army, and is the second-highest-ranking officer on active duty in the Department of the Army.
The 6-foot-4, 250-pound Austin has served his country with distinction since leaving Thomasville High, where he played on the first Jim Hughes-coached football team. Nicknamed “Blade,” he also was an outstanding basketball player and was captain of coach Jerry Studdard’s 1971 team.
Austin was born in Mobile, Ala., but moved to Thomasville as a youngster. After graduating from Thomasville High, he went to the U.S. Military Academy, where he graduated with a bachelor of science degree in June 1975. He also had a master’s degree in education from Auburn University and a master’s degree in business management from Webster University.
In February 2008, he became the second-highest ranking commander in Iraq and on Sept. 1, 2010, he became the commanding general of U.S. forces in Iraq.
“I’m proud of hundreds of guys who played for us over the years,” said Hughes, who coached at Thomasville and Colquitt County from 1970-1999, winning three state championships.
“But he’s just an exception. He was a great student and comes from a great family.”
In 2007, Austin was inducted in the Thomasville-Thomas County Sports Hall of Fame and he asked Hughes to introduce him
“And I was delighted to,” Hughes said. “We sat with him at dinner that night and he said ‘I really don’t know why Thomasville is going through all of this for me.’
After the program, he spent 45 minutes in a corner of the cafeteria signing autographs. He was extremely well received.”
Last year, Austin became the fourth College of Education graduate to earn a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Auburn Alumni Association. Austin, who earned a master’s degree in counselor education, was honored along with retired U.S. Marine Corps Gen. James Livingston; surgeon and researcher Kirby Isaac Bland; and astronaut and aerospace engineer Jan Davis.
“He’s a great speaker, has got a great voice,” Hughes said. “He’s a bright guy.”
And, obviously, an outstanding U.S. Army officer.
“Everybody ought to be proud of Chas and Parks,” Jim Hughes said. “But people ought to be especially proud of Lloyd Austin. He’s a boots on the ground kind of guy. He’s the kind of guy we all ought to appreciate and he represents us very well.”
Distributed by MCT Information Services