Friday, General Lloyd Austin became the first African-American to lead the U.S. Central Command. This position’s responsibilities include planning and conducting operations for the United Command Plan which establishes missions and geographic responsibilities among combatant commanders. In his new position, which is effective immediately, General Austin will oversee 20 countries in the Middle East and southwest Asia.

According to the White House blog, during the change of command ceremony on Friday, the Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said, “General Austin brings to this position combat experience gained on the unforgiving battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. He has commanded some of the Army’s most storied formations, including the 82nd Airborne and 10th Mountain Divisions, as well as the 18th Airborne Corps…With his calm demeanor, strategic vision, regional experience and knowledge, and proven judgment – and with the love and support of Charlene and their children – I am confident General Austin is prepared to lead this command at a time of dramatic change, challenge, and turmoil in its area of responsibility.”

Last August, General Austin also introduced President Obama when he spoke with Fort Bliss. In President Obama’s remarks he acknowledged General Austin’s leadership in Iraq and overseeing the withdrawal of 150,000 troops. General Austin succeeds Marine Corps General James Mattis.

The White House blog states “We thank General James Mattis for his leadership, and look forward to General Austin’s continued service to our country in this new role. We are incredibly grateful to both of them, and to all of our men and women in uniform, for keeping our country safe and our freedoms secure.”

General Austin was also the first African American to serve as Vice Chief of Staff of the Army. When asked about his pioneering career, General Austin told Associated Press: “I don’t often reflect on it. I reflect most on trying to get the job done.”