Pete Riehm
There’s no one on the bridge
By Pete Riehm
January 9, 2024

With all the missteps in foreign policy and national security from the debacle in Afghanistan to miscalculating everything about Ukraine to totally missing the Hamas terror attack on Israel, Americans rightly have grave concerns about our ship of state. The Biden administration’s track record of abysmal failures has precipitated numerous criticisms of incompetence and negligence, so perhaps it should be no surprise there’s no one on the bridge. Yet, Americans were shocked to learn that Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin abandoned the helm without telling anyone! Even his boss, the Commander-in-Chief!

Late this past Friday, January 5, the Pentagon nonchalantly released a statement that Secretary Austin had been hospitalized the past four days, but was doing better and ready to resume his duties. A stunning revelation to the public, but also to most of DOD, Congress, the National Security Council, and the President!!! Beyond Austin’s staff who lied to other DOD officials saying “Austin was working from home,” no one knew Austin was in the Intensive Care Unit at Walter Reed Military Medical Center. Even his deputy who assumed some of his duties while on vacation in Puerto Rico did not know he was in the hospital.

By Sunday, Austin tried to imply the tardiness in notifying everyone properly was due to his Chief of Staff also taking ill. What? Are there only two adults at DOD? And both were incapacitated?! So, no one at DOD knows the law or chain of command and their duty to maintain both? This was not an administrative oversight; this was a gross dereliction of duty.

To understand the magnitude of this failure, one must understand the chain of command and the National Command Authority. In the military, there is a distinct chain of command, so the correct fighters get the correct orders from the correct authority; or there could be mass confusion. The Secretary of Defense is the civilian link from the uniformed admirals and generals to the president. The Armed Service Secretaries and the Combatant Commanders around the globe all work through SECDEF to report to the Commander-in-Chief and receive orders from him. If any link in the chain-of command is missing, how does the rest of the chain know the legitimacy of an order or report?

Imagine a warship captain left his ship without telling the Admiral or his crew and they believed they were under attack. Who would make the report? Who would make the decision to fire or hold fire? Only the ship’s captain has the authority and is accountable for this responsibility, so if he’s suddenly missing without proper notice or passing on his authority, valuable time and perhaps lives are lost in that confusion.

Even more troubling is the fact the National Command Authority (NCA) was compromised, and NO ONE KNEW FOR DAYS! The ultimate source for lawful military orders to commit American military resources in combat, the NCA refers to the civilian authority held only by the president and SECDEF with the power to order the uniformed military into action. SECDEF is the president’s top military advisor, so with American forces literally and regularly under attack in the Middle East, how does the president stay apprised? How does he order a military response if he doesn’t know SECDEF is MIA?! If the US was attacked and needed to defend itself, Austin abandoned his post without following statutory procedures! Any soldier on sentry duty abandoning his post without permission or even notification would be court martialed! Austin should be relieved immediately!

Last week, Biden was on vacation in the Caribbean. SECDEF’s Deputy, Kathleen Hicks, was on vacation in Puerto Rico and even though some of SECDEF’s duties were transferred to her, she was not told Austin was hospitalized, so she stayed on vacation. Austin was admitted to the hospital on January 1, and as far as anyone knows he is STILL in the hospital! A U.S. drone killed an Iranian-backed militia leader in Iraq on January 4, while Austin was absent and everyone else was on vacation unaware he was in ICU, so who ordered that drone attack?!

House Democrats Jim Clyburn (SC) and Sheila Jackson Lee (TX) are scolding the press and Republicans to respect Austin’s privacy and let him get the health care he deserves. Certainly, all wish him a speedy recovery, but if he wanted privacy, he should have passed his duties to his Deputy. He has a very important job to do, and the American people need to know if he can do it and is doing it. It’s a silly defense of his negligence. No one begrudges a policeman, plumber, or SECDEF treatment, but when you need their services, we can’t wait. Someone else must step in.

Aside from completely shirking his duties, there is an honesty problem. Why did the SECDEF staff LIE to other DOD officials about his whereabouts? What is this private “elective medical procedure” that incapacitated Austin? He had that procedure on December 22, but it was over a week later before he had complications. And a week later, he is still hospitalized?! It sounds like there is much more to this story. Why is it all still a secret?

Beyond the utter lack of transparency, there are now grave concerns about accountability. Why would Austin not think to inform the Commander-in-Chief?! Why did his staff not inform everyone when Austin was in ICU? Was Don Trump, Jr., correct when he said the SECDEF staff simply doesn’t bother with the president because he doesn’t comprehend anything? Or, during a time of war why was the White House NOT in regular communication with DOD? All this begs the very serious question: who is actually in charge?!

Austin has a terrible record. Under his watch, we had the worst retreat and defeat in Afghanistan, military readiness has fallen off dramatically, and his woefully woke military has the worst recruiting record in modern history. All of these things justify his firing, but this incredible dereliction of duty demands Austin’s immediate dismissal!

This is not political anymore. Austin has proven his incompetence the past few years and now he has shown his contempt for our Constitutional Republic by disregarding his solemn duties. This is about protecting the United States—the president, Congress, and the American people deserve better.

“And beware of being negligent in carrying out this matter; why should there be great damage, to the detriment of the kings?” (Ezra 4:22)

Pete Riehm is a conservative activist and columnist in south Alabama. Email him at or read all his columns at

© Pete Riehm


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Pete Riehm

Born to German immigrants, Pete Riehm grew up in Texas as a first generation American. Working his way through college, he enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserve. After graduating from the University of Houston, Pete was commissioned into the United States Navy through Officer Candidate School in Newport, Rhode Island. He also earned a Master's Degree in National Security from the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas... (more)


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